Holiday songs tell us “It’s the happiest time of the year.” While we like to think of this season as a time of joy, festive parties, warm family gatherings, and optimistic hopes for the new year, sometimes our idealized expectations are not met and we end up feeling anxious, let down, disillusioned, alienated, and/or stretched to emotional limits. Pre-holiday stress. Mid-holiday frenzy. Post-holiday letdown. Each of these, or the cumulative effects of all them all, can result in a case of the “holiday blues”–or even more serious conditions, such as depression or anxiety disorders.
Commonly-Experienced Causes of the “Holiday Blues”:
Increased levels of stress are invariably cited as one of the biggest contributors to the “holiday blues.” In addition to stress, some of the other oh-so-common factors that can lead to the “holiday blues” include:
* Unrealistic expectations
* Feeling bombarded by over-commercialization
* Strained relationship issues that surface when families get together
* Reminders of past losses of significant loved ones
* Sadness over the contrast between “now” and “then”
* Adapting to changes in family configurations and logistics for celebrating together caused by such new situations as divorce, marriage, blended families, adolescents who no longer celebrate the holidays as “children,” and grown children establishing their own independent holiday traditions
* Financial constraints and demands
* The inability to be with friends and family
* Residue stress from unfortunate past experiences during previous holiday seasons
* Tension caused by the additional demands of shopping in holiday crowds, heavier-than-usual traffic, entertaining, holiday baking, long-distance travel, family reunions and/or houseguests
Useful Strategies For Keeping Stress To A Minimum
Oftentimes, people try to counter the emotional strain they’re feeling by drinking more than they should, over-eating or even placing still further demands on themselves and going to bigger and more elaborate efforts to try and ensure their holidays are the best ever. Throughout the coming weeks, consider engaging some of the following strategies for getting around potential sources of the “holiday blues”:
Keep your expectations for the holiday season manageable:
Be realistic about what you can and cannot do—as well as what you want to do and don’t want to do. Although the holidays often mean trying to fit a lot of activities into a short period of time, pace yourself and, to the degree it’s possible, try not to place your entire focus on just one day (e.g., Thanksgiving Day, Christmas morning, New Year’s Eve), instead, remember it’s an entire season of holiday sentiment and that activities can be spread out (time-wise) to help increase enjoyment and lessen stress. Set realistic goals for yourself; make a list and prioritize the most important activities; ask for and accept help; simplify!
Remember the holiday season does not banish reasons for feeling sad or lonely:
During the holiday season, there’s room for feelings such as sadness and/or loneliness to be present along with other more joyful emotions. You may be feeling out of sorts and periodically out of sync with the season’s “jollier” aspects because of a current stressor, for example, a recent romantic break-up, or dealing with an adolescent child who’s expressing their newfound independence by not participating in this year’s family traditions. When you feel down, avoid critical self-perceptions, such as thinking of yourself as Scrooge and, instead, try to articulate the understanding you need from those around you. You might also consider seeking the help of a therapist to help you sort out your feelings and deal with the troubling issues.
Limit predictable sources of stress:
If you feel the annual trappings of shopping, decorating, cooking and attending social events risk becoming overwhelming and stressful, use discretion and limit the activities you commit to.
Don’t fall prey to commercial hype:
Advertisers would like to have you believe that “if you really loved your spouse” you’d give him or her that expensive new gadget or piece of jewelry or that you should be the “perfect Santa” and grant your kids’ wishes for this year’s pricey crazes. Recognize the ads and commercials as hype that manufacturers and stores have to do to benefit optimally from the season. You can show love and caring in lots of thoughtful ways which don’t cost a lot and that make the holidays all the more meaningful and personal.
Get together with friends and family members:
As much as possible, share the holidays with friends and family members in person, as well by phone, e-mail, and mail. The holiday season can also be a good time to contact someone you have not heard from for awhile. If who have recently suffered the loss of someone especially close, spend time with special friends and family members with whom you can reminisce and share stories and warm memories about your loved one.
Attend holiday community events:
Most communities offer special events during the holidays, such as theatrical and orchestral performances, that can be enjoyable to look forward to and to attend.
Join a social group:
Feelings of loneliness and isolation can often be remedied by participating in activities with others. This can also help in opening up the potential for making new friends. You might consider looking into groups affiliated with your local church, museum, library or community center.
Engage in volunteer activity:
Helping others is a pretty foolproof method of making the holidays feel more meaningful. There are many volunteer organizations that need extra help during this time of year.
Enjoy activities that are free:
Financial strain can be the cause of considerable added stress during the holidays, however, there are many ways of enjoying the season that are free, including driving or walking around to admire holiday decorations, going window shopping without buying, making a snowperson with children, and attending free concerts.
Don’t abandon healthful habits:
Don’t feel pressured to eat more than you’re accustomed to just because it’s the holiday season. And, since many of the season’s parties and social gatherings include alcohol, be aware that excessive drinking will only contribute to or increase feelings of overwhelm or depression. Alcohol is NOT an antidepressant and, in fact, often worsens mood.
Make the time to get physical exercise:
Exercising, for example, aerobics, walking, skiing, hiking, yoga, or swimming, can help burn away a lot of stress as well as the extra calories of holiday meals.
Remember that life brings changes:
As families change and grow, traditions often need to adapt to the new configurations. While you can hold onto certain family rituals, for instance, a certain holiday activity or preparing a long-cherished family recipe, some traditions, such as everyone gathering at your house, may not be possible this year. Each holiday season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by comparing this year’s holiday season with the nostalgia of past holidays.
Spend Time With Supportive and Caring People
In all of the ways listed above—as well as any other opportunities you can think of that specifically apply to your life—it cannot be emphasized enough how important it can be to spend the holiday season in the company of supportive and caring people. Many have found that seeking the counsel of a therapist during this time of year provides just the kind of support and care that helps them with the many emotional issues that arise in response to the holidays. Therapy provides a safe, comforting, and confidential setting in which to receive the kind of help and understanding that can best assist in first relieving, then understanding, and finally recovering from the effects of any feelings of sadness, disillusionment or loneliness you may be feeling.
The Effect of the Shorter Darker Days of Winter
For some people, the shorter, darker days of winter are enough to bring them down. When this is the cause of “winter-time blues,” it’s commonly referred to as SAD, which is short for Seasonal Affective Disorder. The word “affective” relates to emotions, and for those who experience SAD, their emotions go into a tail-spin throughout the winter months, causing such symptoms as depression, fatigue, anxiety, chronic over-eating and social withdrawal that persist until Spring brings longer, lighter days.
If you feel down for days on end during the holidays, it’s important to seek advise from a mental health professional as soon as possible, particularly if you notice that your sleep and appetite are affected. SAD is very treatable; even the most severe cases can receive almost immediate relief once treatment has begun. To find out more about SAD, including easy-to-implement tips for helping to avoid and/or diminish its effects, click here.
Could It Be Depression?
The demands of the holiday season can overload an already stressed, almost depressed emotional system. If you are unable to shake what you think are the “holiday blues,” you may be suffering from depression. The difference between the “holiday blues” and depression is essentially based on the duration of the symptoms and the degree of severity. When symptoms such as the following last for two weeks or longer, it could, in fact, be depression:
* Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood
* Sudden loss of pleasure and interest in activities that are usually enjoyed
* Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
* Difficulty sleeping, or increased sleeping
* Behavior that is more nervous or agitated than normal, or more slowed and unresponsive than normal
* Complaints of being tired all the time and having low energy
* Significant weight loss or gain
* Persistent physicals symptoms that don’t respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, muscle or joint pain
* Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
* Thoughts of suicide**
Depression is very treatable–but first it must be recognized. If you or someone you care about are experiencing any number of the above symptoms of depression, consult a mental-health professional as quickly as possible. Depression is not a sign of personal weakness; people suffering with depression cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better.
If left untreated, the depressive symptoms will only continue on beyond the holiday season and progressively worsen, causing needless pain and suffering, not only to the person who is depressed, but also to those who care about them. Untreated depression can even become a life-threatening disorder as it persistently distorts thinking, making the individual feel more and more hopeless about themselves and life in general.
The American Psychiatric Association reports that “80% to 90% of all people with depression-even those with the severest cases-improve once they receive appropriate treatment.” Basic ways to treat depression include therapy, medication, and a combination of the two. There are therapists who are particularly skilled at helping those who are suffering from depression so that they’re better able to enjoy a winter holiday season that’s merry and bright and to look to the new year with hope and optimism.
**Suicidal ideation is always a serious matter and should be immediately responded to by enlisting professional assistance, for instance, Calling our scrolling hotline or calling “911,”, or looking at our Suicide Hotlines on DF and/or seeking help from a local suicide hotlines in your yellow book ), and/or contacting a local mental-health professionals.
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