Fight the Christmas blues

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 20, 2003

While the holiday season traditionally marks a time filled with joy, cheer, parties and family gatherings for most, there are still many who face the hardest part of the year.

According to the National Mental Health Association (NMHA) there are many factors that can cause the &uot;holiday blues.&uot;

These include stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, over-commercialization, financial constraints, and the inability to be with one’s family and friends.

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The demands of shopping, parties, family reunions, and houseguests also contribute to feelings of tension.

People who do not become depressed may develop other stress responses, such as: headaches, excessive drinking, over-eating, and difficulty sleeping.

Robert Powell, unit director for South Alabama Mental Health, the elderly are often at risk for holiday depression.

&uot;It varies for each group of the population, but for older people, they often feel depressed because they may have lost family members and the holidays are traditionally a time of families getting together,&uot; he said.

&uot;They see there is an empty place at their table and they are reminded that someone is gone.&uot;

He said often children and divorced parents are depressed because families are not all together or a child is absent because he or she is with the other parent.

&uot;With the family focus of the holidays, it can be quite stressful,&uot; he said.

The financial well being of a person can also cause depression, Powell said.

&uot;With an economy that is down, there is less money and families that view this time of year in a materialistic attitude, it can create stress,&uot; he said.

Another problem for many, Powell said, is that they do not look at the coming new year with a positive outlook, but rather focuses on the failures of the past year.

&uot;They dwell on the past and not focus on new opportunities the new year will bring,&uot; he said.

Powell said one of the best ways to help break the funk of the holidays is to be honest with you.

&uot;Recognize that you are having these blue and sad feelings, and know they are temporary,&uot; he said.

&uot;Try to stay busy, because staying busy is something that helps people focus less on the negative things in their life.&uot;

He said if you have the blues to remember an old adage:

&uot;Remember that this too shall pass,&uot; he said.

He said if the feelings to persist, people should seek counseling from their physicians who can be helpful.

He also said the mental health center provides help for those with a more severe depression.

Anybody who feels they need psychological services can call our number 1-877-530-0002.

The NMHA suggests the following tips in coping with holiday stress and depression:

N Keep expectations for the holiday season manageable. Try to set realistic goals for yourself. Pace yourself. Organize your time. Make a list and prioritize the important activities. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Do not put entire focus on just one day (i.e., Christmas Day) remember it is a season of holiday sentiment and activities can be spread out (time-wise) to lessen stress and increase enjoyment.

N Remember the holiday season does not banish reasons for feeling sad or lonely; there is room for these feelings to be present, even if the person chooses not to express them.

N Leave &uot;yesteryear&uot; in the past and look toward the future. Life brings changes. Each season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Don’t set yourself up in comparing today with the &uot;good ol’ days.&uot;

N Do something for someone else. Try volunteering some time to help others.

N Enjoy activities that are free, such as driving around to look at holiday decorations; going window shopping without buying; making a snowperson with children.

N Be aware that excessive drinking will only increase your feelings of depression.

N Try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a new way.

If being at your home during the holidays causes you distress, try taking a vacation during that time.

Many travel agencies and travel companies offer great holiday travel deals.

N Spend time with supportive and caring people. Reach out and make new friends or contact someone you have not heard from for awhile.

N Save time for yourself! Recharge your batteries! Let others share responsibility of activities.

Another problem many people suffer from is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This disorder results from fewer hours of sunlight as the days grow shorter during the winter months. Phototherapy, a treatment involving a few hours of exposure to intense light, is effective in relieving depressive symptoms in patients with SAD.