By Dr. Richard Nathanson

Many people associate the upcoming weeks –and the extra stress of the holidays– with a change in mood. The increased demands from work and family can sometimes take a toll. It’s particularly important during periods of stress to attend to your mental health as well as your physical health. Typically, they go hand in hand.

Anyone can have a bad day here and there, but entering a Major Depressive Episode (sometimes referred to as “clinical depression”) is not uncommon. In fact, up to 20% of the population will have such an episode at least once in their lifetimes. It includes at least two weeks of at least five of these nine symptoms:

  • Depressed, sad, low, or “blue” mood

  • A decrease in the ability to derive pleasure from pleasurable activities

  • Changes in sleepExercise boredom

  • Changes in appetite

  • Decreased energy level

  • Feelings of excess guilt

  • Decreased concentration or ability to focus

  • Slowed body movements

  • Suicidal thoughts

Suicidal thoughts are the most concerning, and always a reason to seek immediate medical attention. But all of these symptoms can take a serious toll.

The good news is that depression is very treatable. Work with your doctor to design a treatment plan that works for you. A regular physical activity program that includes cardiovascular exercise can help prevent as well as treat Depression. Make sure to care for yourself: Eat well, get sufficient rest, and invest time in social relationships that give you strength and support.

Most of all, if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms, don’t rely on this article alone: Get professional help quickly.