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The holidays are meant to bring out good feelings in people.

But as the season continues and the days get shorter, this time may not be as joyous for some. Feelings of loneliness and depression, unfortunately, aren’t unusual at this time of year.

“Anybody can get depression,” said Dr. (Maj.) Ellen Ballerene, a psychiatrist with RAF Lakenheath’s life skills center.

Those who feel down around the end of the year because of the shortened daylight hours may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

“As many as four to six out of 100 people have winter depression,” Ballerene said. About 20 percent of all people, she said, may suffer some limited effects from the shorter days.

And the farther north someone is, the greater the possibility of feeling winter depression.

“It’s seven times more common in Washington state than in Florida,” she said. Southern England’s U.S. bases all sit farther north than anywhere in the U.S. mainland.

And feeling depressed is not the only symptom that this time of year is taking its toll on someone, the U.S. National Mental Health Association Web site states. Headaches, excessive drinking, overeating and difficulty sleeping also may be signs of holiday or winter stress.

Ballerene said family, relationship and work stresses also can be greater at this time of year, adding to depressed feelings.

These stressors can be anything from deployments to changes in diets because of an increase in holiday treats and even a change in sleeping habits — staying out late for holiday parties or sleeping in because of holiday work schedule changes or leave.

But following routines and keeping up social and family relationships can help to limit the effects of those stresses, Ballerene said.

Those new to an area may be at greater risk, as they may not have a support structure of friends in place to lean on if times get rough, or may not know where to go to take part in social, recreational or religious activities or groups.

While knowing these basic stressors can help people understand what leads to the winter blues, controlling them may be difficult. But Ballerene said there is a wide variety of resources available on bases for those who are feeling depressed.

People going through a tough time may be able to attend classes about, or get information, or talk with someone on the issues from base Health and Wellness and Family Support Centers, Family Advocacy offices or chaplains.

Those wanting counseling can see their regular health care providers for guidance or referrals, or they can stop into their base life skills centers.

Anyone who is having severe depression, feelings of hopelessness or thoughts of suicide should go to their base life skills center or an emergency room, Ballerene said.

Ballerene said that it’s best to recognize and deal with whatever depressed feelings people may have rather than “waiting until it affects their family life, relationships and jobs and are then forced to.”

Tips to stay stress-free

Dr. (Maj.) Ellen Ballerene recommended a number of ways for people to minimize the effects of stresses:

Take part in “outside activities.”Try to maintain routines. “Continue to keep regular sleeping patterns.”Make time to exercise. “If you work out and it’s dark, go to the gym.”Avoid major changes to your diet and continue getting fiber-rich foods and vegetables.Drink in moderation and avoid using alcohol to cope with holiday stresses. “Some people find that alcohol makes them more depressed or leads them to make bad decisions.”Those affected by the shortened daylight hours may be able to help themselves at home by turning on more lights to brighten their surroundings. Special lights are available that may help with Seasonal Affective Disorder.— Jason Chudy

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