Do you ever get sad or depressed over the holidays? It turns out this is actually pretty common. Every year I see people get depressed over the months of November and December, and sometimes they disappear from counseling until the new year. When talking with people about their winter depression, there are a few themes that stand out.
For some, the abundance of holiday cheer can be difficult. Typically when people come to therapy they are confronting life difficulties that may be sad and hard to cope with. When you are feeling sad on the inside but everything outside of you is screaming happiness and cheer, it can be difficult to be congruent and honest with yourself and others about your feelings. This mismatch can result in what is known as cognitive dissonance.
The term cognitive dissonance refers to the state of being when a person has beliefs, attitudes, and/or behaviors that conflict with each other. An example might be someone who believes that animals deserve similar rights to human beings, but who also enjoys fishing. Having such a conflict results in stress and anxiety. During the holidays, those who feel bad on the inside but feel pressure to appear happy on the outside experience cognitive dissonance and are left feeling isolated or like something is wrong with them for feeling the way they do. This state of cognitive dissonance can then compound any difficulties a person might be facing at the time. The following video is a little technical, but a good explanation of cognitive dissonance.
For some the holidays can be difficult because of memories of good times that are far gone, loved ones who are distant or no longer living, or negative life experiences compounded by cognitive dissonance. Another common issue that pops up in counseling during the holidays is what is known as seasonal affective disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a fairly common disorder that makes people feel down, depressed, and apathetic during the winter months when days are shorter, darker, and generally wetter. It is believed that SAD is the result of lessened exposure to daylight which our bodies are dependent on for maintaining several chemical and hormonal systems.
If you are experiencing depression during the winter months or any time of the year, it may be a good time to seek counseling. The negative emotions you are feeling are real. They are your own, and are your body’s way of telling you something isn’t right and needs to change. You don’t need to bottle it up for other people. Therapy can help.