Setting Up Unrealistic Expectations.
Hoping for a picture-perfect White Christmas holiday is setting yourself up for not only disappointment, but potentially depression. “People have this anticipation or fantasy of the holiday that you would see on TV,” psychiatrist Dr. Mark Sichel, author of Healing From Family Rifts, says that if the holidays tend to be a time of conflict in your family, or you’ve recently experienced the loss of a loved one, putting pressure on your family to all get along or to be cheerful could lead to disappointment and additional anxiety.
Being mindful of what you do have to be thankful for — getting a week off of work, or just the promise of a fresh start with the beginning of the new year — can help combat feelings of deficiency and lack. “Realize that the holidays do end — and take stock of what you can be grateful for,” says Sichel. “Having gratitude is probably the best antidote against depression.”
Trying To Do Too Much.
At the holidays, the pressure of trying to do everything — plan the perfect holiday, make it home to see your family, say yes to every event, meet those year-end deadlines — can be enough to send anyone into a tail spin. And if you’re prone to anxiety and depression, it can take a significant toll on your mood. A heightened pressure and fear of not getting everything done are some of the most common triggers for the holiday blues, according to Sichel. “Being bogged down by perfectionism” can contribute to feeling down, says Sichel. “Many people feel they just can’t do the right thing, that family members are always disappointed in them.”
Comparing Your Insides To Someone Else’s Outsides.
Both in real life and on social media, it can be difficult to avoid comparing yourself with others around Christmastime. If you have a less-than-perfect family, a past trauma from this time of year, or just a less-than-full holiday dance card, comparing your holiday experience with other peoples’ is a recipe for increased sadness and isolation. As Sichel points out, these comparisons tend to make us feel bad about ourselves. “People’s basis for comparison is not based in reality, because most families have issues and most people do not have the perfect Christmas that they would like to have or that they’d remember from their childhood.”.
Slacking On Self-Care.
For many people, December is the busiest time of the year. When work pressures pile up and the calendar gets full with social obligations, the routines that normally keep us healthy and happy — yoga class, morning runs and healthy meals— are usually the first thing to fall by the wayside. Eating poorly and drinking excessively can also exacerbate issues like stress, anxiety and depression. “Take care of yourself — don’t overeat and over-drink,” says Sichel. “Do your regular routines of exercise and whatever keeps you together during the year.”
Experiencing Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
If you tend to start feeling down when winter approaches each year, and those negative feelings don’t go away after the holidays are over, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is most commonly associated with winter blues, and it afflicts about 5 percent of Americans. This form of depression arises when the body experiences a “delay adjusting to new seasons,” says Alfred Lewy, MD, professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland. The body has a hard time adjusting, he says, which could be due to imbalances in brain chemistry and the hormone melatonin.
Nicotine is known to affect neurotransmitter activity in the brain, resulting in higher levels of dopamine and serotonin (which is also the mechanism of action for antidepressant drugs). This may explain the addictive nature of the drug, and the mood swings that come with withdrawal, as well as why depression is associated with smoking cessation. Avoiding cigarettes — and staying smoke free — could help balance your brain chemicals.
When the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, it’s known as hypothyroidism, and depression is one of its symptoms. This hormone is multifunctional, but one of its main tasks is to act as a neurotransmitter and regulate serotonin levels. If you experience new depression symptoms — particularly along with cold sensitivity, constipation and fatigue — a thyroid test couldn’t hurt. Hypothyroidism is treatable with medication.
Poor Sleep Habits
It’s no surprise that sleep deprivation can lead to irritability, but it could also increase the risk of depression. “If you don’t sleep, you don’t have time to replenish [brain cells], the brain stops functioning well, and one of the many factors that could lead to is depression,” says Matthew Edlund, M.D., director of the Center for Circadian Medicine, in Sarasota, Fla., and author of “The Power of Rest.”
Spending too much time in chat rooms and on social-networking sites? A number of studies now suggest that this can be associated with depression, particularly in teens and preteens. Internet addicts may struggle with real-life human interaction and a lack of companionship, and they may have an unrealistic view of the world. Some experts even call it “Facebook depression.” In a 2010 study, researchers found that about 1.2 percent of people ages 16 to 51 spent an inordinate amount of time online, and that they had a higher rate of moderate to severe depression.
End Of A TV Show Or Movie
When something important comes to an end, like a TV show, movie, or a big home renovation, it can trigger depression in some people. Emily Moyer-Gusé, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University. She explains people are often “swept up in a narrative –or unrealistic story line- forgetting about real life and [their] own problems.”
Where You Live
Researchers have found that people living in urban settings do have a 39 percent higher risk of mood disorders than those in rural regions. A 2011 study in the journal Nature offers an explanation for this trend: City dwellers have more activity in the part of the brain that regulates stress. And higher levels of stress could lead to psychotic disorders. Depression rates also vary by country and state. Some states have higher rates of depression and affluent nations having higher rates than low-income nations. A quiet drive to the country can be good medicine for this condition.
Too Many Choices
The sheer number of options available — whether it’s face cream, breakfast cereal or appliances — can be overwhelming. That’s not a problem for shoppers who pick the first thing that meets their needs, according to some psychologists. However, some people respond to choice overload by maximizing, or exhaustively reviewing their options in the search for the very best item. Research suggests that this coping style is linked to perfectionism and depression.
Lack Of Fish In The Diet
Low intake of omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon and vegetable oils, may be associated with a greater risk of depression. A 2004 Finnish study found an association between eating less fish and depression in women, but not in men. These fatty acids regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin, which could explain the link. Fish oil supplements may work too; at least one study found they helped depression in people with bipolar disorder.
Poor Sibling Relationships
Although unhappy relationships with anyone can cause depression, a 2007 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that men who didn’t get along with their siblings before age 20 were more likely to be depressed later in life than those who did. Although it’s not clear what’s so significant about sibling relationships (the same wasn’t true for relationships with parents), researchers suggest that they could help children develop the ability to relate with peers and socialize. Regardless of the reason, too much squabbling is associated with a greater risk of developing depression before age 50.
Depression is a side effect of many medications. Read the potential side effects when you take a new medication, and always check with your doctor to see if you might be at risk. Also, oral contraceptives contain a synthetic version of progesterone, which studies suggest can lead to depression in some women. “The reason is still unknown,” says Hilda Hutcherson, M.D., clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, in New York. “It doesn’t happen to everyone, but if women have a history of depression or are prone to depression, they have an increased chance of experiencing depression symptoms while taking birth control pills,” Dr. Hutcherson says.