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Beating Depression During the Holidays

What You Need to Know

  • Depression is different from feeling sad or unhappy, and is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away.
  • During any one year period, nearly 21 million American adults suffer from depressive illness, with women experiencing depression about twice as often as men.
  • Without treatment, depression can last weeks, months or years, but most people respond well to medication, therapy or a combination of the two.
  • Anyone wishing for death or having recurring thoughts of death or suicide should seek treatment immediately.
  • To learn more about depression, its symptoms and treatments, visit the Johns Hopkins Health Library.

Upcoming Events

Facebook Chat: Beating Holiday Depression 

Dr. Margaret ChisolmDr. Margaret Chisolm

Join Dr. Margaret Chisolm, associate professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, on the Johns Hopkins Medicine Facebook page for a chat about depression and the holidays at 1:00 p.m. on December 18





Ask the Expert: Andrew Angelino, M.D.

What causes depression?

Dr. Andrew Angelino Dr. Andrew Angelino

There are two types of depression, with different causes:

  • A depression caused by brain disease in which people lose all or part of their ability to feel pleasures from pleasurable things. Since life’s pleasures are gone, these individuals lose interest in activities and feel sad or numb all the time.
  • A depression caused by reaction to a significant loss or involvement in a bad situation. The brain may still function normally in its ability to sense pleasures, so when the depressed individual is distracted from their circumstances, they may be able to laugh and enjoy things. But when they're reminded of the event they're upset about, sadness begins building and affects them again.

What are the most common symptoms of depression?

Depression is characterized by a persistent and pervasive loss of ability to feel pleasures. A person with major depression will not experience pleasures from pleasurable stimuli, such as spending time with friends.

Depressed individuals will often have their sleeping patterns disturbed, diminished concentration and memory, impaired judgement, and/or a waning appetite and sex drive. Thoughts of death, wishes for death and thoughts of suicide are unfortunately all too common, and are a sign that immediate attention and treatment is needed. 

Why is depression so common during the holidays?

Holidays are a time when expectations are generally high and stress increases due to expectations of meaningful connections with loved ones and the exchange of “perfect” individualized gifts that will be cherished forever. Further, they come at a time of year when the days are short and sunlight is in limited supply, which can trigger an episode in many people vulnerable to depression. 

How can people beat depression during the holidays?

There are four ways people can battle depression over the holidays:

  • Get some sunlight and exercise. Fifteen to 30 minutes of sunlight, at best in the early morning, will go a long way to alleviating the winter blahs, and who doesn’t enjoy a brisk romp down a snowy lane after dinner? 
  • Adjust your expectations. Don’t let visions of perfection spoil everything.  Learn that most things can be good enough – gifts, food, company, etc.
  • Watch your health. Get enough sleep and eat and drink in moderation. Two glasses of wine are plenty for the evening – one if you’ve already had the eggnog.  Pick one cookie on the plate and savor it, instead of eating them all.
  • If the depressed mood is serious, leading to isolation, crying spells, not sleeping or eating, hopelessness and thoughts of death or suicide, get help immediately.

Advancements in Depression Research and Treatment

Researchers Uncover Key to Antidepressant Response

Through a series of investigations in mice and humans, researchers have identified a protein that appears to be the target of antidepressant drugs and electroconvulsive therapy -- find out how and why these depression treatments work

Happy mother and baby

Predicting Postpartum Depression

It’s a common worry among new mothers: What if I experience postpartum depression? Could I hurt my child, or myself? But what happens if researchers can predict which mothers might develop the condition -- from the results of a simple blood test?

The Link Between Adolescent Stress and Severe Adult Mental Illness

Do elevated levels of a stress hormone during adolescence -- a critical time for brain development -- cause schizophrenia, severe depression, and other mental illnesses later in life?  

Find a Depression Specialist

The Mood Disorders Center provides a range of specialized clinical services to patients with mood disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder.

Request an Appointment

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