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Doctors: Holiday Depression Is Real and Treatable

Stress can take the sparkle out of the holidays. (davidpwhelan/morguefile)
Stress can take the sparkle out of the holidays. (davidpwhelan/morguefile)
December 19, 2017

CHEBOYGAN, Mich. – While images of joy and celebration fill storefronts, magazines and TV screens this time of year, the reality of the holidays isn't always so cheerful, and experts say avoiding holiday traps and knowing where to find help are critical.

Whether it's the stress of an overbooked calendar, feelings of isolation or the financial pressures of the gifting season, the holidays take a mental and physical toll on many people in Michigan.

Dr. Loretta Leja, M.D., a family physician who practices in Cheboygan, says what may start as the "holiday blues" can leave people in a downward spiral if left unchecked.

"(They're) more likely to get sick, they're more likely to have poor judgment, they will start losing sleep, it will then sometimes snowball into a worsening depression," she says.

Leja recommends setting realistic expectations for the holidays, paying close attention to food and alcohol intake, and maintaining self-care routines such as exercise.

She encourages anyone feeling especially overwhelmed or losing interest in activities they would normally enjoy, to contact their family physician or primary-care doctor, who can properly assess and discuss the treatment options available, many of which she stresses do not necessarily involve medication.

Leja, who is the current president of the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians, says doctors like her, who are trained to treat the whole family, from infants to adults, can be very helpful during difficult times, since they have the benefit of knowing their patients' extended history and family dynamics.

"Because I know them, I can help bring in social contacts and determine whether a little bit of counseling will help them pull out of it, or if it is more serious and will require medication, and then I will be there to make sure things are improving," she adds.

Given Michigan's climate, people who still feel down after the holidays are over could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which Leja says should also be discussed with a physician, since treatment options are available.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI