December 12, 2008

Many people see the holidays as a time of happiness, but the season can cause sadness and stress as individuals deal with a recent loss or just become overwhelmed. While these situations can cause many individuals to experience sadness during holidays, if not contained, these symptoms can lead to depression.

Cases of holiday depression or sadness could increase this year as many families are faced with financial hardship, possibly for the first time, said Ronald Werner-Wilson, chair of the Department of Family Studies in the University of Kentucky School of Human Environmental Sciences.

"We don't often think about the financial aspects of the holidays causing stress, but there is a lot of pressure on us to buy the ‘perfect' gift," he said. "The financial pressure of the holidays is creating difficult situations for folks."

With the lingering recession, increasing unemployment and foreclosures, many people are struggling to fulfill basic needs, much less purchase gifts. These factors could cause individuals to become sad or stressed as they no longer are able to maintain their previous level of holiday purchasing.

Overspending is another issue that can cause additional stress, especially for those who bought more on credit than they could afford.

Despite the contributing factors, all holiday stress or sadness does not lead to depression. Werner-Wilson said oftentimes people consider sadness to be synonymous with depression, but that is not always the case.

If you or someone you know is feeling down this holiday season, there are several things you can do to help. Many times if a person is feeling sad, discussing those feelings and their contributing factors with a close friend will help ease the burden.

"Talk with someone who won't put pressure on you to be happy," he said. "A lot of people tend to respond this way because they don't like to talk about sadness or losses but not talking about them can be counterproductive."

Being active can also improve a person's mood. Exercising has both mental and physical benefits. Research shows that exercise releases endorphins, which are neurotransmitters in the brain that relieve pain.

"Taking a friend for a walk can provide an opportunity for exercise and a chance to talk about problems either of you may be facing," he said. "Inviting those that are sad to attend events with you can also help them."

Most sadness felt during the holidays is considered situational depression, meaning it only happens during certain times of the year, but more severe clinical depression could develop or worsen during the season. Signs of clinical depression include sleeping for long periods of time, decreased appetite, lack of motivation, unable to concentrate, pulling away from others and difficulty working. It is important for those with clinical depression to seek help from a professional.

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