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University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center psychiatrist stresses life balance to avoid mood disorder during holidays

Friday, November 22, 2013

Healthy diet, sleep, activities and expectations can help beat holiday blues

GEAUGA COUNTY – For many in Northeast Ohio, “happy holidays” is a standard that is challenging to achieve. The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years Day can be a battle against holiday blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder or even clinical depression.

“When I see patients who complain of problems with their mood during the holidays, it’s often because they’re holding unrealistic expectations of themselves or of the season itself,” says James F. Cunagin, MD, a psychiatrist at UH Geauga Medical Center. “Then when it doesn’t turn out picture-perfect, they feel bad during a time when they’ve been told they’re not supposed to feel bad. As a result, they compound unhappiness on unhappiness.”

Dr. Cunagin, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, recommends proactively working to balance every aspect of your free time and responsibilities to avoid depression or a mood disorder during and following the holiday season. “Plan ahead and give yourself permission to say no to some of the things people request of you,” says Dr. Cunagin. “You don’t have to go to every holiday event, but you shouldn’t sit on the couch every night, either. Instead of dwelling on people or things that are missing or that you predict won’t live up to your expectations, focus on what you have and the things you really want to accomplish.”

This life balance also includes rest and nutrition. Especially during the holidays, Dr. Cunagin stresses quality, uninterrupted sleep each night and a variety of foods in moderation. “It’s wise not to drink too much at the holidays, either,” he says. “Alcohol is a depressant and if you overindulge, it can bring your mood down.”

Dr. Cunagin, who sees inpatients in the Behavioral Health Department at UH Geauga Medical Center, notes that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is also common this time of year. Winter-based SAD is often associated with light deprivation as the days get shorter. It can cause serious mood changes; a tendency to oversleep and overeat; difficulty concentrating on tasks; and withdrawal from friends, family and social activities. “SAD can last into February and March,” says Dr. Cunagin. “Those symptoms should be brought to a doctor’s attention.”

Dr. Cunagin stresses the difference between a case of the holiday blues and clinical depression. “If you’re feeling down but still functioning, adjusting your life balance can help your mood,” says Dr. Cunagin. “If people are pointing out that you’re not acting like yourself, that you’re not able to get things done no matter how hard you try, then you may be depressed and you should see a doctor. Your primary care physician is always a good place to start.”

The Behavioral Health Department at UH Geauga Medical Center uses the latest advancements in mental health diagnostics, treatment and management to treat common conditions like depression and bipolar disorder. For more information, call 440-285-7757.

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