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However, while the season can be very festive, recent studies conducted by the National Mental Health Association have demonstrated that holiday socialising can lead to high stress levels, anxiety disorders and fatigue. These are believed to stem from all the shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating and endless entertaining. Bouts of depression (dubbed the ‘post holiday blues’ by psychologists) can also surface, brought on by the anti-climactic end of the holiday season.
Similar studies have further discovered that it is not just the events associated with winter but also the weather that pulls people down. In fact, the seasonal affective disorder (SAD), caused by reduced sunlight hours during winter, is a rising concern globally. SAD symptoms include headaches, fatigue, depression, crying spells, irritability, trouble concentrating, body aches, insomnia, decreased activity levels and an increased intake of carbohydrates.
SAD is usually treated with serotonin selective reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications (which should not be taken without consulting a physician). A popular and effective alternate medicine treatment is phototherapy where the patient is exposed to intense light in a controlled environment for a certain time period. While one school of thought recommends morning light as being more therapeutic in alleviating depression, recent studies show that sessions conducted in afternoon light are equally effective.
If you are predicting a hectic winter holiday season, you may find the advice on countering seasonal depression by Dr Katherine Nordal, Executive Director, American Psychological Association (APA), useful:
“Make sure your holiday expectations are realistic – avoid overextending yourself and your budget. Try to maintain some of your normal routine and pay attention to your feelings but don’t overindulge on sweets and cheeses.”
– Dr Uzma Ambareen
The writer is a consultant psychiatrist at the Free Mental Health Clinic and a member of the Pakistan Association for Mental Health.
First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on December 22, 2013.