Dealing with ‘holiday blues’ or depression? | Dr. Petter

Does the pressure of the holiday season create more stress than pleasure? Are you overwhelmed with endless tasks to accomplish and places to go? Could it just be the "holiday blues" or is it depression?

Does the pressure of the holiday season create more stress than pleasure? Are you overwhelmed with endless tasks to accomplish and places to go? Could it just be the “holiday blues” or is it depression?

Clinical depression is different from the “holiday blues.” Symptoms are more intense, persistent, and last longer. They may start to interfere with your life, often creating difficulties with work and relationships. True depression involves both the mind and body; it effects how we think, feel and behave. Depression is a real medical condition, like high blood pressure or diabetes, and it is treatable.

The exact cause of depression is not fully understood. It is believed to be related to a combination of factors, such as an imbalance of biochemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters and/or hormones), environmental or situational factors, and genetics. If you have a family member diagnosed with depression, you are at higher risk of developing it over time.

Symptoms of depression typically are emotional and physical, with a wide range of presentation. Emotional symptoms may consist of poor concentration and focus, irritability, frustration, anger, worry, anxiety, feeling guilty and/or sad, low energy, crying, decreased sexual drive or interest, and appetite changes. Physical symptoms may consist of sleep disturbances, headaches, back and/or neck pain, stomach discomfort, and weight fluctuations.

Tips for feeling better

There are many things you can do on your own to feel better. First, focus on the basics. Exercise for 30 minutes, 5-7 days a week. An adult needs 7-9 hours of consistent, uninterrupted sleep every night. Eat three nutritionally well-balanced meals every day. Try to decrease your overall stress level.

Second, consider a trial of over-the-counter medication and/or supplements. St. John’s Wort is a natural herbal supplement that may help decrease symptoms of depression and improve mood.

Another option is SAMe (a natural chemical found in the body). It is commonly used in Europe as a treatment for depression. The daily dose of SAMe is about 400 to 1,600 milligrams. If you take prescription medication(s), consult with a doctor before beginning treatment with either of these products.

In addition, consider taking Omega-3 fatty acids (2,000 to 4,000 milligrams a day), or just eat more foods high in Omega-3 (i.e., walnuts, soybeans, fish and/or flax seed). Vitamin D supplementation may also be beneficial.

Lastly, if these tips do not markedly help, or if symptoms of depression last longer than two weeks, make an appointment to see a doctor. Excellent prescription medication is available to help treat clinical depression. Counseling services many be recommended. Always seek immediate medical attention if you have thoughts of suicide.

Dr. Linda Petter of Auburn is a weekly feature on KOMO TV/Newsradio in Seattle (1000 AM and 97.7 FM) every Saturday and Sunday at 7:45 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. She trained at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Illinois, Carle Hospital. Petter is chief of the Department of Family Practice at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. She is a consumer healthcare advocate and author of two books, “Healthcare On a Budget” and “Common Medical Sense”. For more information, visit her website,, or call her office at 253-568-0841.