Often, people view the holiday blues as something unavoidable and try to push through it until after the New Year. According to a North American study, 45 percent of respondents say that they dread the festive season. This can be for various reasons, but often stress or loneliness can be so overwhelming that people feel as though they are depressed. Counseling professionals take a comprehensive biological, psychological and social approach to their clients’ holiday blues to determine if they are experiencing sadness or depression and how to combat both.

Biological elements
Cold weather and a lack of sunlight can contribute to depression. In some climates, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects nearly 10 percent of Americans. This calls for a biological solution, mainly, exposure to sunlight through a light therapy box that mimics sunlight. You may have SAD if you feel worse as the hours of sunlight diminish and there is no other reason for you to feel depressed.

Psychological elements
Everything from Christmas films to social media can make for lofty expectations for the holidays. Psychologist Alfred Adler often wrote about how we can create our own fictions. A definition of a fiction is setting up a goal that you cannot possibly reach. This includes creating our idea of a perfect holiday. Counselors remind their clients to have realistic expectations of the holidays and that it is okay to accept things as they are. This is particularly important on social media, as you can feel as though you need to be keeping up with millions of people online.

One strategy that counselors use too is reality therapy. This is a structured approach to combating fictions. Key reality therapy questions to ask yourself are:

– What are you trying to accomplish?

– How are you trying to get it?

– Are you achieving these goals?

– What can you do differently?

Counselors help clients keep what works and establish new strategies for things that don’t.

Social elements
The holiday blues can also be affected by social factors, like family get togethers. Many people expect the perfect family get together with 100 percent smooth sailing. However, this is a fiction as at least one problem will occur. Learn to accept that and don’t let ten minutes worth of problems ruin your entire holiday season.

Another potential social element relates to political discussions during the holidays. The country is still reeling from a divisive presidential campaign with a surprising outcome. This is likely to be mentioned throughout the holiday family time. However, given the contentiousness of this particular election, I highly recommend making the holiday table a politics-free zone, especially if all guests do not have the same political beliefs.

A final social coping mechanism is to build in a little bit of failure to your holiday plan. That way, disappointment will not throw you off when it comes. For example, if you plan for two out of twenty conversations with family members to go poorly, that allows you to enjoy the remaining 18 discussions.

Is it sadness or depression?
Many people don’t realize that depression often has nothing to do with biology. A Johns Hopkins study found that over 60 percent of adults who were diagnosed with depression by a clinician didn’t meet the official criteria for the disorder upon re-evaluation. This indicates that their issues were rooted in psychological and social aspects, rather than biology.

When we talk about holiday blues, it is important to distinguish between sadness and depression. The defining difference is that sadness is a feeling. However, depression is actually a lack of feeling as well as a lack of energy. This can be like living in black and white instead of color.

Tips for coping with holiday blues
1. Seek out a counselor to help you determine if your sadness is biological, psychological or social or a combination of these factors;

2. Monitor whether the amount of sunlight and weather conditions have affected your mood. If so, consider a light therapy box that mimics sunlight;

3. If you have issues with your family seek a family counselor — don’t ignore them;

4. Don’t expect the perfect holiday or compare your holiday with anyone else’s, especially on social media;

5. Don’t overemphasize something negative. For instance, if your nephew says something that was offensive don’t let it taint your whole holiday;

6. If something goes wrong, take a walk, drive, or find some alone time to move past the negative moment.

How do you know you need a counselor around the holidays?
Ask yourself — is a lack of energy affecting my life? Are you constantly feeling a lack of happiness? If your answer is no, and you can still enjoy yourself for a significant amount of the time then it is likely that you are experiencing sadness rather than depression.

If you’re feeling unsure about whether or not you have depression, visit the Diagnostic Criteria for Major Depressive Disorder to see if your mood qualifies as depression.

How do you know you if a friend or family member needs counseling?
When a family member says that they are hurting or jokes about pain they are experiencing, take them seriously. Often, we feel that others are just looking for attention — that is rarely the case.

To find a counselor to speak to please visit the American Counseling Association’s website at www.counseling.org.

If you are experiencing a personal crisis or having thoughts of suicide please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1–800–273-TALK (8255).

Originally published at medium.com