Bah Humbug! 10 Things That Get Worse Over the Holidays

The holidays aren’t all happiness and cheer. They can also bring relationship strain, health problems and downright sadness. Here are 10 things that get worse over the holidays.

1. Your mood.
There is great debate about whether the incidence of depression is higher during the holiday season. Seasonal affective disorder (“fall-onset SAD”) may account for the blues over the holidays. It’s characterized by increased sleep, increased appetite, increased weight, irritability and heavy feeling in the 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. Your relationship with your partner and loved ones.
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. Your health.
Sore throats and nasal congestion due to viral upper respiratory infections peak from November to February, so you might find yourself looking like a red-nosed reindeer. 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.

4. Your 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—there is a 35 percent higher rate of hospitalizations in the winter compared to the summer. We wonder if respiratory illness is tipping these patients over the edge.

5.  Your skin.
Winter is the Grinch who stole moisture, causing dry, itchy skin. Going from the cold air to heated rooms and 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 (the 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 a product that contains petrolatum (Vaseline petroleum jelly, Aquaphor) and get through that first greasy 5 minutes for a big payoff later.

6. Your vitamin D levels.
Low vitamin D levels are common even in young healthy adults at the end of the winter. One Boston study showed 36 percent of 18 to 29 year olds had really low D levels 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 2,000 IU capsule daily during those months.

7. Your waistline.
Santa might not be the only one with a big belly this winter. Weight suffers over the holiday—Weight Watchers will run specials starting January 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. Your blood sugar.
Sugar plum fairies won’t raise your blood sugar, but holiday parties and snacking and all the sweets and carbs that go with them might. Sharecare experts have some tips for healthy eating over the holidays. Many people with diabetes will see their doctor in January, tail between their legs, but we cut them some slack.

9. Anxiety about finances.
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. Grief over lost loved ones.
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.

File under: Expert Spotlight


Dr. Sharon Orrange

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 Medicine and completed residency in Internal Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. Currently, Dr. Orrange is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine in the Department of Medicine at the USC/Keck School of Medicine. Dr. Orrange spends part of her time as the Attending Physician for medical students and residents during their medicine rotations at LA County-USC Medical Center and USC University Hospital. She also has an active private practice in General Internal Medicine and is board certified in Internal Medicine.

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