For many, the holidays are a time to celebrate with family and friends. But for some, the season can bring on feelings of intense stress and sadness. In fact, an estimated 10 million Americans, or about 6 percent of the U.S. population, experience these feelings in their most extreme form--a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).


Understanding SAD

A clinical mood disorder, SAD is characterized by extended periods of depression in fall and winter, when days are shorter, and more stabilized moods in spring and summer, when days are longer. Fortunately, the condition is highly treatable, and if you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from SAD, it's important to consult with a health-care professional so he or she can advise you on next steps.


Easing the Holiday Blues

Experts note that SAD is different, however, from the holiday blues. While SAD may last for months, the holiday blues generally last only a few days or weeks. If you're struggling with the holiday blues, it's also best to consult with a doctor. In addition, the Mayo Clinic recommends the following tips to help cope with the condition.


  • Acknowledge your feelings.
  • If a loved one has recently died or you aren't able to be with your loved ones, realize that it's normal to feel sadness or grief. It's okay now and then to take time just to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.

  • Set differences aside.
  • Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all your expectations. Practice forgiveness. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion arises. With stress and activity levels high, the holidays might not be conducive to making quality time for relationships. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are, they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.

  • Learn to say no.
  • Believe it or not, people will understand if you can't do certain projects or activities. If you say yes only to those things you really want to do, you'll avoid feeling resentful, bitter and overwhelmed. If it's not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.

  • Don't abandon healthy habits.
  • Don't let the holidays become a dietary free-for-all. Some indulgence is okay, but overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese, or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep, and schedule time for physical activity.

  • Seek professional help if you need it.
  • Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for several weeks, talk to your doctor or a mental-health professional. You may have depression.