What Are The Holiday Blues?
All across America, the holiday season comes into full swing between Thanksgiving and New Years. During this stretch of time, families around the country are enjoying holiday traditions, time off from work, traveling to see friends and family, and much more. While it’s thought to be “the most wonderful time of the year” for those celebrating the holidays, this isn’t the case for everyone. Many expect to experience joy and comfort from partaking in beloved traditions and being with family during this season, but instead find themselves stressed, overwhelmed, and depressed. This temporary and situational shift in mood is known as the “holiday blues”, and it affects adults and children similarly (Bright Futures).
The Difference Between Holiday Blues & Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Before we continue, it’s important to understand the difference between holiday blues and a mental health condition called “Seasonal Affective Disorder”, or SAD. Holiday blues is often used interchangeably with Seasonal Affective Disorder, but they are not the same thing. Seasonal Affective Disorder is classified as a type of depression, and it affects nearly 10 million Americans every year (NIMH). Unlike other types of depression, this condition has a cyclical and seasonal pattern. This means that those who have this condition often begin experiencing symptoms of depression when daylight hours become shorter during the fall and winter, and see these symptoms lessen during the warmer, brighter months of the year. There’s been a great deal of research into why Seasonal Affective Disorder operates this way, and it is now widely believed that this condition can be triggered by a Vitamin D deficiency brought on by lower light levels during colder months (Penckofer, Kouba, Byrn, & Ferrans, 2010).
On the other hand, holiday blues are not considered a mental illness, but rather, a troubling and potentially disruptive drop in mood that is directly linked to situational stress revolving around the holiday season (NAMI). If someone is dealing with noticeable depressive episodes during specific seasons for at least two consecutive years, that’s when we begin to be concerned about Seasonal Affective Disorder instead (Oregon Health News Blog). Most importantly, even though the holiday blues are not a mental illness, this situational stress can often aggravate existing mental health conditions. For example, in a 2014 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of those with mental illness reported that the holidays make their conditions worse.
How Holiday Stress Can Impact Children
Most of the focus when it comes to holiday blues is on adults. However, children and adolescents are just as likely to experience this seasonal stress, which is in accordance with the highest rate of child psychiatric hospitalizations occurring during the winter months. There are many situations that can trigger holiday blues in children and teens, and stressed parents can aggravate these triggers:
- irregular sleep schedules
- being in the company of unfamiliar or rarely-seen relatives
- high expectations for their behavior and reactions
- overindulgence of candy and treats
- a shift in their regular routine
Signs and Symptoms of Holiday Blues in Children
Some common signs and symptoms of holiday blues and stress in children include: