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In the Mood Series: Sadness vs. Depression | MyLifeStages
Meaningful occasions such as holidays and birthdays can make us feel nostalgic for the past, intensifying our longing for loved ones we’ve lost or for simpler times in our lives.
blog, blogs,Mental Health / Stress Management,Alternative / Complementary Medicine
Pinterest Pin ItIn the Mood Series: Sadness vs. Depression

In the Mood Series: Sadness vs. Depression

Posted on 12/23/2015  by  Healthy Living Blog 

Meaningful occasions such as holidays and birthdays can make us feel nostalgic for the past, intensifying our longing for loved ones we’ve lost or for simpler times in our lives. Sometimes such reminiscing can leave us feeling sad and downtrodden during a time that is supposed to be joyful.

It’s common for many of us to feel blue around the holidays, given increases in stress, work deadlines, family dysfunction and poor eating habits. But at what point do the holiday blues move into the more serious category of clinical depression?

Theodore Goodman, M.D., director of interventional psychiatry for the Sutter Center for Psychiatry in Sacramento, says sadness, feelings of depression and the illness of depression are all very different states of mind.

When patients come in to see me, they may be experiencing a lot of stressful situations. I have to determine whether they are depressed emotionally because of stress and sadness, or whether in fact they’re experiencing a relapse of a major depressive illness,” Dr. Goodman says.

Is it Clinical Depression?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 16 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2013. Just experiencing one episode of depression increases your risk for another episode by 50 percent, and women are 70 percent more likely than men to experience depression during the course of their lifetimes.

If you’re unsure whether you’re experiencing normal feelings of sadness and depression or clinical depression, it’s a good idea to refer to the medical guidelines developed by the American Psychiatric Association. A major depressive disorder is diagnosed when five or more of these symptoms are present for at least two weeks:

  • Depressed mood.
  • Significantly reduced level of interest or pleasure in activities.
  • Considerable loss or gain of weight, associated with appetite loss or overeating.
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep, or sleeping more than usual.
  • Agitated or slowed down behavior.
  • Feeling fatigued or worn-out.
  • Thoughts of worthlessness or guilt.
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details or making decisions.
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide.

Clinical depression is often also accompanied by excessive crying, social isolation, irritability, loneliness, hopelessness, body aches, headaches, cramps and digestive problems. People often describe depression as a constant dark cloud looming over their lives. Dr. Goodman says if you have multiple symptoms of clinical depression, such as the inability to get out of bed in the morning and face the day, it’s time to seek help. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss treatment options. 

Dr. Goodman, who specializes in treatment-resistant depression, says patients who struggle with recurrent bouts of depression often have trouble determining whether they are sad, emotionally depressed or experiencing a relapse of their major depressive disorder.

The closer you are to having recovered from a depressive illness, the more uncertain you are when you feel any emotion  —  is it a normal feeling or a relapse? Over time people get increasingly more comfortable differentiating between the two,” he says.

Wintertime Depression

During the fall and winter months, some people also experience a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  It’s a subtype of major depression that comes and goes with seasonal changes, particularly when sunlight begins to diminish. Dr. Goodman says clinical depression and SAD don’t always go hand-in-hand, but the two are closely related.

The absence of light is a powerful trigger for some patients with depression,” Dr. Goodman says. “Using bright light therapy for SAD is actually beneficial for patients with non-SAD type depression. The converse is that people with SAD often respond to depression medications.”

Most people with SAD feel better by springtime, when the days get longer and there’s more sunlight. Learn more about SAD and its effects.

Surviving the Holiday Blues

Whether you feel sad, depressed or believe you may have clinical depression or SAD, there are some things you can try this holiday season to help your mental health. Here are our tips for overcoming the holiday blues.

  • Set realistic expectations. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by expecting everything to be perfect and all of your relatives to get along. Focus on what you can be grateful for.
  • Minimize stress. Many people take on way too many tasks during the holidays, making them feel stressed out. Instead of cooking the entire holiday meal yourself, make it a potluck. Make time to enjoy relaxing activities such as reading or listening to music.
  • Don’t overbook. You don’t have to say yes to every holiday party invitation you receive. You also don’t have to stay for the entire duration of a party. Give yourself the freedom to decide what you truly want.
  • Eat healthy and exercise. Any sort of holiday or celebration often comes with a slew of high-fat, sugary treats and alcoholic beverages. Eating poorly, drinking and slacking on exercise can exacerbate stress and depression, so make time to take care of you.
  • Avoid comparisons. Your friends’ lives may appear perfect on social media and on their Christmas card, but don’t compare yourself with them. Remember that all families have issues and no one is perfect.
  • Try something new. Can’t bear another holiday meal at grandma’s house? Try something new such as going to a restaurant or a movie with your relatives.
  • Find positive ways to remember loved ones. Instead of wishing your loved ones could be with you during the holidays, do something active to celebrate their memory. Share funny stories about your loved one or share old photos with your relatives.
  • Volunteer. You may feel stressed out and overwhelmed already, but there’s nothing like helping others to make you feel grateful. Try volunteering at your local soup kitchen or animal shelter. Or instead of gifts, ask your relatives to donate to your favorite nonprofit.



Theodore Goodman, M.D., is the director of interventional psychiatry for the Sutter Center for Psychiatry in Sacramento.