It's that time of the year again. If you live in a place that celebrates Christmas, then it's probably like this for you: malls and establishments are decorated with festive holiday cheer, various-colored twinkling lights, and one gigantic tree with a huge golden star perched on top of it.
Kids and their parents are all lining up to get their picture taken with a man dressed up as Santa. Christmas songs fill the air waves. It might be Justin Bieber's younger self singing about what he wants for Christmas and of course, it's you. It might be a song about Santa knowing if you've been naughty or nice this year. It might also be about what happened to you last Christmas when you willingly gave your heart away.
No matter how the December holidays look like for you, there's no denying that the world seems to be more alive during this season. However, it's also not unusual to feel melancholy when everyone around you is in high spirits.
The struggle is tougher for people with depression. Because of the increased buzz from holiday activities, stress and anxiety levels are also elevated. What experts call seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may be hitting you or someone you know.
Fortunately, there are many different ways to deal with winter blues.
Without the need to take antidepressants, a method called light therapy can be effective in treating SAD and other kinds of depression.
Dr. Raymond Lam of the University of British Columbia said current treatments designed for people with depression are good, but are not effective for everyone. Previous studies revealed that medications only work in about 60 percent of depression cases.
In the UBC study, Lam and his colleagues found that light therapy alone can lift symptoms of depression. Taking medications along with light therapy can be optional, too.
"What this shows is that we have another treatment option that's a non-medication treatment," said Lam. "More and more people are seeking help because there is less stigma about having depression."
Holiday Stress and Overeating
Most people deal with holiday stress by overeating, a habit associated with an increased risk of anxiety. Ronald Duman, a Neurobiology professor of Yale University said that for people with chronic stress, overeating may contribute to depression.
With that, Yale researchers found that a synthetic compound called ketamine may be helpful in significantly lowering symptoms of depression and stress linked to overeating.
Ketamine stimulates the mTORC pathway in the brain. This pathway regulates protein synthesis involved in the creation of the synaptic connections that have been damaged by depression and stress. It is also connected to neural responses to metabolism and energy.
Yale scientists found that in rats that displayed stress and anxiety, a single low dose of ketamine can quickly reverse these symptoms of depression, as well as the disruption of the mTORC pathway.
Despite the promising results, however, Duman said further research and testing must be done to find the ketamine dosage that is appropriate for humans.
The Benefits of Probiotics
Probiotics, which are well-known to be the "good bacteria," are crucial in treating infectious diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome.
Probiotics can be found in foods such as yogurt, miso soup, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, pickles, tempeh, kimchi and poi. Ingesting probiotics can help keep the balance in the gut.
However, it is only now that scientists are starting to grasp the overall health benefits of these microbes.
A new study in the Netherlands revealed that probiotics may actually be beneficial in improving a person's mood. Probiotics may help in treating depression or even just making you feel better after an awful day.
Study participants with no mood disorders who took probiotic supplements reported that they began to experience improvements in their mood. These participants were able to better overcome sad moods than other participants, and had less depressive thoughts following bouts of sadness.
"Our findings shed an interesting new light on the potential of probiotics to serve as adjuvant or preventive therapy for depression," said Lorenza Colzato, the lead author of the study.
Talk — Someone Will Listen
For people who feel depressed during the holidays, it's also extremely vital to have a support system.
Merily Keller of the Texas Suicide Prevention Council promotes the significance of being surrounded by your loved ones during the holiday season.
"Because of all the connections we have with family and friends during the holidays, depression and suicide is actually much lower," said Keller. "This is why social connections are so important. For those with depression, it's important to keep connections during the holidays and all year round."
In the end, when the long stretches of sadness still remains, the most important thing you could do is find someone to talk to. If your holiday blues go beyond bearable, and you start to think of suicidal thoughts, it is okay to seek help.