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Take Control of the Holidays

The holidays can be a stressful time. The festivities can lead to anxiety related to excessive shopping for friends and family, finding time for social obligations, worrying about holiday debt and simply trying to do too much. Additionally, many of us detour from our everyday routine, neglecting proper nutrition and regular exercise. These pressures can lead to the phenomenon known as holiday depression or the holiday blues.

Will your holiday be blue?

According to the Mental Health America and the Canadian Mental Health Association, depression peaks over the holidays. The unrealistic expectations of the season, time and financial pressures, missing loved ones and reflecting on past events as the year comes to an end can all contribute.


flying-international.jpgDuring the holidays, a person can experience depression, loneliness, sadness, isolation, anger and abnormal sleep. Those who don't experience depression can experience other symptoms such as headaches, tension, fatigue, excessive drinking and over-eating. 


It also is common to feel a holiday letdown after the holidays are over. The hectic holiday period and the feeling of being physically and emotionally drained can leave you with the sense of loss or frustration, and then that can turn into the blues.


The holiday blues can range from mild sadness during the holidays to severe depression, and they are often a normal reaction to life situations.


Holiday blues should not be confused with clinical depression. Clinical depression is a disorder that may need to be relieved with medication, while the holiday blues could require something as simple as a good listener. Clinical depression, however, can be triggered in a number of ways at or just after the holidays.


There is also a tendency to link the holiday blues with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD, however, is a diagnosable disorder that is associated with fewer hours of sunlight during the winter. Although people with the holiday blues also can be afflicted with SAD, the two are not directly related. People with SAD have symptoms of major depression not only throughout the holiday season, but also throughout the autumn and winter seasons.


The facts are that the holidays are not always filled with joy for everyone. The most important thing is to recognize your feelings and take care of yourself. Do not feel like there is something wrong with you if you struggle with feeling the joy of the season. Find someone you can talk to about what you are experiencing.


The Mayo Clinic offers these 10 tips for tackling holiday blues

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.
  2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.Picture8.png
  3. Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can't come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
  4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  5. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Try these alternatives: Donate to a charity in someone's name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.
  6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That'll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
  7. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every project or activity. If it's not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
  8. Don't abandon healthy habits. Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity.
  9. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Take a walk at night and stargaze. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
  10. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

The holiday blues can be quite common, but if you are feeling especially down—for example, your sleep or your appetite is affected—contact your health care provider or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or www.griefnet.org