Primary Care Physician
Dr. Orrange received her BA in Biology at the University of California, San Diego, and a Masters Degree in Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. She received her MD from the USC Keck School of…
10 Things That Get Worse Over the Holidays
Posted in Anxiety by Dr. Sharon Orrange on Nov 20, 2012
1. 'Tis the Season(al) Affective Disorder: Why Am I a Scrooge over the holidays?

Mood is worse over the holidays. Recognize there is great debate here about whether the incidence of depression is higher or not during the holiday season. Seasonal affective disorder (“Fall-onset SAD”) may account for the blues over the holidays and is characterized by increased sleep, increased appetite, increased weight, irritability, and heavy feeling in arms and legs. SAD is a seasonal pattern of major depressive episodes. Many believe that depression is balanced out by more social support from family over the holiday season, which may help cushion the blow.

2. Run from the mistletoe.

Relationships between partners and loved ones suffer over the holidays. Many of you travel to visit relatives during the holidays (not real vacations but rather obligations) and strained relationships with family members take their toll. Conventional wisdom here is that relationships with partners suffer because he/she hasn’t lived up to expectations: didn’t get you what you want for Christmas, didn’t help you prepare thanksgiving dinner, or set the table, etc.

3. Holiday heart.

It may surprise you that the heart doesn’t do well over the holidays. There is a seasonal pattern of deaths from heart attack and sudden death with a higher rate of fatal events in the winter than the summer. It is the same with heart failure where there is a 35% higher rate of hospitalizations in the winter compared to the summer. We wonder if respiratory illness is tipping them over the edge.

4. Red nosed reindeer:

Sore throats and nasal congestion due to viral upper respiratory infections peak from November to February. Let’s see if you can get this mantra down: during the holiday season you need to stay hydrated, eat right, get some sleep, and stay connected (no joke, social connections help strengthen immunity) but please, please wash your hands.

5. The Grinch who stole moisture.

Dry skin. Skin suffers big time during the winter months and dry itchy skin is common. Going from the cold air to heated rooms, to taking a hot bath or shower at the end of the day is a recipe for skin disaster and a sure way to remove the natural oils from the skin. Learn this well known dermatology secret: lotions and creams are DRYING (first two ingredients are water and alcohol both drying) even if they say “for dry skin” on the label. Greasy emollients are the only way to prevent dry skin so look for something with petrolatum in it (Vaseline petroleum jelly, Aquaphor) and get through that first greasy 5 minutes for a big payoff later.

6. Vitamin D(onner).

Low vitamin D levels are common even in young healthy adults at the end of the winter. One Boston study showed 36% of 18-29 year olds had really low D levels <20 at the end of the summer. Whether you believe this is important or not (and it certainly is for bones,) it may be worth taking a Vitamin D3 2000 IU capsule daily during those months.

7. Tastes, licks and bites.

Weight suffers over the holiday--Weight Watchers will run specials starting Jan 1st when their enrollment peaks. Holiday parties and the carbs at the big dinners (rolls, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pies) along with watching football on the couch are the perfect storm for weight gain.

8. Blood sugar (plum) fairies:

Diabetes and blood sugar control are worse over the holidays because of less organized eating (parties and snacking) and the sweets and carbs-a-plenty. The American Diabetes Association can help with some tips for eating over the holidays. Many diabetics will see their doctor in January, tail between their legs, but we cut them some slack.

9. 5 Golden Rings.

Financial stress contributes to more anxiety over the holidays; entertaining, buying gifts, and travel add to financial strain. Aside from the obvious financial tips, to avoid increasing your anxiety level be realistic about your budget, stay away from debt and take a few minutes for yourself. Do some physical activity or take time for proper relaxation.

10. Mis(s)letoe take 2.

You miss them. Grief and loss are more pronounced over the holidays and not just that first year without your loved one. Rely on friends and family to get you through it: light a candle, share stories, tell jokes, make time for quiet reflection or do whatever feels right; just don’t be surprised if grief rears its ugly head over the holidays.
Ho Ho Ho

- Dr. O


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I am 73 and I see all the empty chairs and I feel sad. It's
just not the same. We don't decorate anymore.
By missd12932  Dec 14, 2012
Thank you for your great article. I dont like the holidays season cause its when things just get worse!

But its sad seeing that most of the solutions are related to having family support. Not everyone has that as you know.
By drwho546  Nov 23, 2012
Vitamin D-3 is a huge benefit to me in the colder months. I do not hurt as bad and am not as depressed. I try my best not to overstuff at holiday meals and I take plates home instead and stretch out my meals. It helps me alot and the dry skin thing I of course drink plenty of water and use jojoba or almond is a life saver and I use it all over even in my hair.
By harmony2013  Nov 21, 2012
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