By Dr. Christine Cauffield, CEO of LSF Health Systems.
A famous quote from Charles Dicken’s novel, A Tale of Two Cities, states “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” often portrays many peoples’ feelings during the holiday season. For those who have experienced a recent separation, divorce or death of a loved one, the holidays can be an especially painful time period. Other risks for having the holiday blues include financial troubles, illness, lack of social support system, excessive alcohol intake, and fractured family situations.
According to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, individuals that reported feelings of happiness, love and high spirits over the holidays also experienced feelings of fatigue, stress, irritability, bloating and sadness. Thirty-eight percent said their stress level increased during the holiday season, noting top stressors as lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, pressures of gift-giving and family gatherings.
You may be experiencing the holiday blues if you feel like simple activities are more difficult than normal, including getting out of bed, making dinner or taking a walk. Other symptoms include greater fatigue, loss of interest in things that typically bring joy, trouble concentrating, headaches, overeating and insomnia.
The messages we give ourselves can often exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and being overwhelmed. Holiday movies are filled with images of warmth and togetherness, while television ads bombard us with gift products that are a must for this holiday season. Our seniors who are living alone, with family far away, are particularly vulnerable to feelings of sadness and isolation. It’s important to keep in close touch with seniors in your life, especially remembering them and including them in holiday plans.
Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, suggests the following strategies to minimize the negative aspects of the season.
- Don’t worry about how things should be: Stop comparing ourselves with idealized notions of perfect families and perfect holidays;
- Be realistic: It’s ok to say no to party invitations or unaffordable gift giving;
- Keep your own well-being first: Limit alcohol intake, as alcohol is a depressant, exercise and get a good night’s sleep every night;
- Volunteer: It provides a great source of comfort to know you are making a dent in the lives of people who are less fortunate than you. Seek out other community, religious or other social events.
Additionally, let others share the responsibilities of holiday tasks and keep track of your holiday spending. Extra bills with little budget to pay them can lead to further stress and depression. And if you are still feeling depressed after the holidays are over, you may be dealing with more than just the holiday blues. Seek help with your doctor about your symptoms.