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For some, feeling blue is part of the holiday season

Feeling down this holiday season? You're not alone.

"It definitely is a real thing," said Shelly Guida, licensed marriage and family therapist at Lakeland Mental Health.

The winter holiday season can be a dark time physically, not just emotionally, since the shortest day of the year is in late December. Lack of daylight can hit those with seasonal affective disorder hard around the holidays.

The Winter Solstice was Friday, with the sun rising at 8:06 a.m. and setting at 4:23 p.m. In terms of daylight, that's six hours, 12 minutes shorter than the longest day of the year, the June 21 Solstice.

"Seasonal affective disorder is the entire winter season," Guida said. "Holiday blues or depression runs between Christmas and New Year's. It's a difficult time for people, with reduced sunlight, then you add seasonal depression to it."

Holiday depression can strike for a variety of reasons. "The holidays are supposed to be a time to celebrate with family and friends, and a lot of people experience sadness, loneliness or depression because of the things going on in their life," she said.

Financial stress can play a role, and they may be struggling with their spirituality. A lot of people don't have good relations with a loving higher power, she said. "Many of our celebrations center around that, and if they have distanced themselves from church, or had a bad experience, they may be struggling with that."

And for some people, family gatherings can be tough. "Those dysfunctional families you see in the movies? A lot of that is true," she said.

Others may be dealing with grief or loss of a loved. "For them, it can be a time of reflection, especially if the loss happened in that year."

Troubles can be compounded when people don't feel their emotions, acknowledge them, and watch them go.

"As a result, people don't sleep as well," she said. "There may be overeating or excess alcohol use — all unhealthy strategies to cope with their feelings."

A positive attitude helps, and that doesn't mean false cheerfulness, but finding more positive things to think about and not dwelling on the negative. A little gratitude goes a long way.

"Keep your expectations more manageable, don't expect perfection in everything," she said. "You don't have to be the best thing to everybody, you don't have to give the best gift, you just don't have to do that."

You'll feel better about yourself if you don't spend beyond your means, and think outside yourself. "We always feel good when we do something for someone else, rather than think about ourselves," she said. "Participate in a giving tree or a secret Santa."

And don't isolate in unhappiness. "Try to spend time with the positive people in your life, people who are supporting and caring. Try not to be alone," she said.

If you're broke, try something new and go to the free seasonal activities that are all over town. "Enjoy living in the moment," she said. That's where happiness will surprise you.

When you're feeling down, self-care is important: Get enough sleep, get some fresh air and exercise and make an effort to be around people. "Relax, don't feel the stress of being overwhelmed," she said. Make lists if that helps, and don't worry about things.

If your depression, loneliness or desperation is to the point where you feel suicidal, "seek informal or professional support if need be," she said. Crisis hotlines are available 24-hours at 1-877-380-3621 or locally at 218-850-HELP (4357).

Minnesota saw a significant increase in the number of suicides in 2017, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, 783 Minnesotans died by suicide. This was an increase of 5 percent compared to 2016. Minnesota is not alone in seeing this increase; these trends are happening in other states across the country, said Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm. Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in Minnesota and 10th nationally.

"While we have made some progress in suicide prevention, as the state saw a 10 percent decrease in suicides among women, there was also a 9 percent increase among male Minnesotans, particularly in the seven-county metro," she said.

"We want to emphasize that suicides are preventable and depression and other mental illnesses that often contribute to suicidal behavior are treatable," Malcolm said. "Suicide is not inevitable. Most people find the hope and help they need to make their way to a brighter future."

If you or a loved one are facing a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-TALK (8255) or text MN to 741741.