The holidays are often escorted by the holiday blues, so do not feel alone with this winter funk. But how do you know if you\u2019re feeling a seasonal condition or a more lasting depression? \u201cComparing the holiday blues to a depressive disorder is like comparing a cold to pneumonia,\u201d says Robert Hales, chairman of the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. \u201cMajor depression can destroy joy for living and make it impossible to focus on work and responsibilities. Individuals may experience hopelessness and depressive symptoms such as sadness and tearfulness throughout the day. Thoughts of death or suicide may enter their minds.\u201d As the world\u2019s most common mental ailment, about 16 percent of adults will experience depression during their lives, the UC Davis academic writes, and \u201cstress-related events such as the holidays may trigger half of all depressive episodes.\u201d It is the severity and endurance of symptoms that separate holiday blues from the more crippling depressive disorder, also known as major depression or clinical depression, experts say. Depression is not a weakness that one can will themselves out of; it is a medical condition in which one feels dread, loss of interest in what\u2019s normally been of interest, intense sadness, and often an inability to function day-to-day. It is not a fleeting feeling but a chronic condition and sometimes makes sufferers feel pinned in bed or indoors, where the simplest tasks such as bathing seem overwhelming. There's an Upside The good news is that depression, while typically a chronic condition, and the holiday blues, are treatable, usually with a combination of antidepressants, psychological counseling and other treatment therapies, according to the Mayo Clinic. And one significant thing that you can do to counter depression, immediately, and for free, is to exercise. Studies have repeatedly found benefits to reducing depression with this natural approach. \u201cWhen you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain, WebMD states. \u201cEndorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body. ... For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as \u2018euphoric.\u2019 That feeling, known as a "runner's high," can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.\u201d But first one has to recognize that they are having a bout of the blues or depression, said Dr. Jason Powers, regional chief medical officer for Right Step treatment center in Texas and for Austin\u2019s Promises center. Powers said many people still don\u2019t know that the \u201choliday blues\u201d are a real set of general symptoms. \u201cThese mercuric symptoms, which can include sadness, anxiety, headaches, gastro-intestinal problems, insomnia, interpersonal conflicts, and irritability, are frequently confused for depressive disorder. \u201cBesides sharing several obvious symptoms with depression,\u201d Powers said, \u201cthe holiday blues are perplexing for other reasons. We are supposed to relish the Thanksgiving- Christmas-New Year trilogy. We are supposed to ignore the stress of shopping, demanding relatives and friends, office parties, cooking, financial limitations and more. In addition, we are supposed to take care of all of these things with holiday cheer. However, we are not robots. Human beings naturally respond to stress in predictable and, all too often, self-destructive ways.\u201d Amplifying the holiday stress is the trickle-down impact on the family, particularly children, said Kate Nulty, LCSW, a Los Alamitos psychotherapist in private practice. The holiday blues happen for some, Nulty said, because for weeks, we can be thrown off of our regular routine of self-care: exercise, sleep, healthy eating \u2013- balance. And increased family time and gatherings with potentially stressful people -\u2013 perhaps even abusive relatives -- are factors, too. \u201cIn my practice, the holidays often cause traumatic memories to surface,\u201d said Nulty. \u201cI think with kids in general, some of the struggles are losing sight of the meaning of whatever holiday you are celebrating and just focusing on materialism -- the gift-getting. Unplug, Slow Down, Be Together Children actually are aware, on some level, of the divergence between the spiritual meaning of their holiday and the drumbeat of commercialism infiltrating their media, Nulty said. They experience let down from holiday expectations like adults may. And younger family members have their version of holiday blues, some of it second-hand from their elders. Kids feel the stress of adults, be they teachers, coaches or parents, as they try managing the added weeks of effort that the holidays bring. So for starters, Nulty said, all ages can ward off milder holiday blues by simply unplugging, slowing down and being together. More severe symptoms, the experts say, require treatment by professionals. If during the holidays you experience many of the below symptoms to such severity that they interfere with normal relationships, UC Davis\u2019s Hales said, go to your primary caregiver for help: \tFeeling depressed, sad and discouraged \tLoss of interest in once-pleasurable and enjoyable activities \tEating more or less than usual, or gaining or losing weight \tHaving trouble sleeping, or sleeping more than usual \tFeeling slow or restless \tLack of energy \tFeeling hopeless, helpless, or inadequate \tDifficulty concentrating \tDifficulty thinking clearly or making decisions \tPersistent thoughts of death or suicide \tWithdrawal from others and lack of interest in sex \tVarious physical symptoms.