The holidays are supposed to be filled with joy, but for many people, this is the saddest time of the year.
Happiness and peace with friends and family at Christmastime - that's often a far cry from peoples' real feelings of disappointment about relationships, and inadequacy over not spending enough or doing enough.
"Many people get stressed this time of the year especially with the current financial crisis, we're overburdened with time schedules, and we just don't take the time to say no," Janet E. Taylor, M.D., a Columbia University psychiatry instructor said.
There are varying degrees of the holiday blues. For instance, don't worry if you feel sad, overwhelmed or down, hopefully you'll feel better the next day.
But see your doctor if those feelings last longer than two weeks and include no energy, no motivation to do your normal routine or a disinterest in relationships. These symptoms point to clinical depression, which is treatable. Tell your doctor if you sometimes feel the extreme opposite: very high energy, sleeping less than one hour a night, and frenzied thoughts and behavior. This could indicate bi-polar disorder.
Although bipolar disorder is characterized by high highs and low lows, they do not come in equal measure. The depression is more frequent than the mania, particularly at the holidays.
Mood stabilizers taken regularly curb the emotional extremes.
"If you're diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you have to take medication every day for the rest of your life," Taylor said. "You really need to stick to the regimen, there's no way around it. I would not call it curable, but what I would call it is, treatable."
So you can chase away the holiday blues if you pay attention to your feelings, and maybe even get a little help.