Is It the Holiday Blues or SAD? Here’s How to Tell

Is It the Holiday Blues or SAD? Here’s How to TellIf you’re feeling some stress or sadness thanks to the pressures of the holiday season, you’re not alone. Holiday-related feelings of stress and even depression aren’t uncommon. Many people feel pressure to make the holidays perfect, or worry about how they’re going to pay for gifts and celebrations. Others fret about spending time with relatives they might not always get along with, and some may be coping with feelings of loneliness or grief because of a recent death in the family or because they have no one to spend the holidays with.

But seasonable affective disorder, or SAD, is more than just the holiday blues. It might be easy to mistake SAD symptoms for a case of holiday stress when they first start to appear, but where feelings of holiday depression tend to lift immediately after New Year’s, SAD symptoms persist until the seasons change once more. Coping with the holiday blues is usually just a matter of taking it easy and re-adjusting your expectations for the holiday season, but SAD requires treatment, often with light therapy and medication. Here’s how to tell if your feelings of sadness and stress are directly related to the holiday season, or if they’re symptoms of SAD.

Your Sad Feelings Begin Well Before the Holiday Season

The holiday blues are, quite simply, feelings of sadness that are directly linked to the activities and pressures of the holiday season. If you’re far from family and friends or in mourning during the holiday season, it’s completely understandable and natural that you would feel lonely and sad. Even if you’re surrounded by loved ones, you may still feel overwhelmed by the extra burden of cooking, cleaning, hosting, and shopping that the holidays bring. Shopping alone is enough to give most people the holiday blues, since it’s physically exhausting and financially draining.

Feelings of holiday-related stress and sadness typically begin right around the time the holiday season kicks into gear. SAD symptoms, however, are related to a lack of sunlight in the winter, which boosts production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep cycle and causes feelings of sleepiness at night. Up to 10 percent of American adults suffer from SAD, and 60 to 90 percent of those people are women. Symptoms of depression, irritability, lack of energy, and excessive sleepiness can begin as early as September and last until April or May, when the days get longer again.

Your Symptoms Interfere With Your Everyday Life

While the plain old holiday blues probably won’t hinder your ability to enjoy the holidays or to at least soldier through them while still meeting your personal and professional obligations, SAD symptoms — like symptoms of other depressive disorders — are severe enough to interfere with your normal functioning. For many SAD sufferers, this means losing interest in the things they usually enjoy, having problems getting along with other people, and being more sensitive than usual to feelings of personal rejection.

You Have Physical Symptoms

You Have Physical SymptomsSAD causes a range of physical symptoms, some of which are similar to those caused by other types of depression, and some of which are unique to SAD. For example, both SAD and major depressive disorder can cause feelings of fatigue, low energy levels, excessive sleeping, trouble concentrating, feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, and thoughts of death or suicide.

Symptoms specific to SAD include a sensation of heaviness in the limbs, increased cravings for carbohydrates, and weight gain. While many people are prone to feel more sluggish or moodier than usual in the winter, SAD symptoms last every day for at least two weeks.

Because SAD symptoms are linked to a lack of natural sunlight, light therapy can bring relief for many sufferers. Light therapy may not be completely effective, or may cause unpleasant side effects, but medications likeAbilify can help treat depressive symptoms linked to SAD. If you’re struggling to pay for the drugs you need to treat SAD symptoms, save money by buying antidepressants online at Many people find that cognitive behavioral therapy helps them manage SAD symptoms by allowing them to develop coping strategies in advance.

The symptoms of SAD look a lot like the symptoms of other depressive disorders, including major depression and the depressive phase of bipolar disorder, so doctors often won’t make a diagnosis of SAD until seasonal symptoms appear two winters in a row. But if your feelings of depression, fatigue, and sluggishness lift for no apparent reason in the spring and re-appear again in the autumn, you are probably suffering from seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is more than just the holiday blues. If you or someone close to you is experiencing feelings of depression that set in around mid-to-late autumn and lift just as mysteriously when the days begin to get longer again, SAD may be to blame. Winter doesn’t have to be bleak and gloomy — get help for your seasonal depression symptoms.