The most wonderful time of the year

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- What a wonderful time of year it is. We've all worked very hard this year and we all deserve a joyous holiday break; a time to reflect and be thankful for all of our successes and accomplishments. Live it up Team McChord, you've earned it!

This holiday season will surely be filled with all kinds of heartwarming activities; gift shopping, parties and family gatherings. Many will just "chill" and hang around the house with family and simply enjoy each other's company. I'm particularly excited because my son, a fellow Airmen assigned to Hulburt Field, Fla., will be with us for Christmas and we intend to spend several days fishing and catching up.

For most of us this time of year will be a joyous, fun-filled time. For others, it will be a stressful or depressing and very difficult time of year. It can be a time of sadness and loneliness, a time of self-evaluation and reflecting about the past and a time of anxiety about what the future year will bring.

Our military lifestyle can compound these feelings of depression, especially for those who are stationed far away from family or who have recently arrived and have not yet established a social network of close friends. Our short, dreary, Pacific Northwest days don't help the situation. This time of year we often go weeks without seeing the sun, which can result in a phenomenon known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD (how appropriate is that?).

This lack of sunshine and warmth can make a person feel depressed, fatigued and even irritable. The symptoms of SAD are both psychological and physiological; your mind and body are affected by the dreary winter weather. In fact, our region has become ground zero for research on winter depression. Often times, people suffering from SAD seek coping mechanisms like drinking excessively or engaging in other self destructive activities which only make the matter worse.

So, while you are enjoying this holiday season with family and friends, don't forget about your Air Force family members. Be vigilant and mindful of those Airmen around you who might not be smiling and humming Christmas carols. Look for those who might be socially isolated and invite them to share your holiday activities. I can tell you from experience, inviting a new or unaccompanied Airman to share your holiday cheer is an extremely satisfying and uplifting experience. After all, sharing your holiday joy with others is the true spirit of the season.