By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
In just a few days, we once again will celebrate Christmas. The most festive time of the year, Christmas is in a way what many of us aim our year towards. This habit of aiming towards Christmas starts, naturally enough, when we are children and excitedly await our yearly reward for being good all year. Children, no matter how little they actually get for Christmas, rarely actually get depressed around the holidays. It is only as adults that the meaning of Christmas starts to weigh on us. Why is that?
What makes us depressed during the holiday? How can we avoid the trap of depression in December?
December is Different
Even if there were no Christmas, December, alone, can trigger depression.
Scandanavia is beautiful but it has some of the longest, most dreary, winters on Earth. The scarcity of sun and the freezing temperatures keep people indoors for much of the winter. Depression is rampant and deadly. For decades, rates of depression and suicide have been higher in Finland and Sweden than for the rest of Europe. Though Sweden has managed to improve its statistics, suicide rates in Finland are still 40% higher than in the rest of Europe, according to a 2013 study from the University of Helsinki, Finland.
Interestingly, the rates start to climb in October as temperatures drop. And for those who make it through the winter depressed, they commit suicide as soon as the temperature rises again in May.
This study and others have found a strong connection between the amount of sun you get, the temperatures and rates of depression and suicide.
December has the shortest day of the year, usually around December 20 or 21. This is the day with the least amount of sun. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere in North American and Europe, experience similar dips in mood or mood challenges as the sun disappears for longer and longer amounts of time as winter deepens.
We need daylight to set our circadian clocks that tell us when to rise and when to sleep. Without the sun as our natural timer, we start to sleep later or get up feeling sleepier, much like the experience of jet lag. This is winter jet lag and it's never worse than in December.
Reset Your Circadian Clock to Stave Off Winter Jet Lag and Depression
The solution, some scientists believe is to reset your circadian clock. Exposing yourself to substitute sunlight can help. The light of the sun appears yellow but it actually is a larger spectrum of colors. Exposing yourself to a full spectrum sun light lamp can help to reset your circadian clock, and actually stave off depression.
Studies of people with seasonal affective disorder, a depression triggered by lack of sunlight, find their depression lifting after exposure to full spectrum light, studies have found.
Can Taking Vitamin D Help?
Sun exposure is our most important natural of Vitamin D. Low levels of Vitamin D have been strongly lined to depression, according to the Vitamin D Council. Vitamin D is hard to find in foods. Only certain oily fish such as salmon are rich in this essential vitamin.
You should consider adding a Vitamin D (specifically Vitamin D3° supplement during the winter months to help stave off depression.
In December, we have a lot going against our natural emotional and biological reserves Without proactively adding the proper vitamins and substitute sunlight, we are sitting ducks for the annual holiday blues.