Holiday Depression

Are you ready for Christmas?

How to beat the holiday blues

Some people love everything about the winter holidays. Then there are the rest of us. Many of us find this time of year stressful. Some become sad or even clinically depressed. If you identify with the latter group, take heart — you are not alone, and there is hope that you can approach this season with some new defenses to help you cope with these feelings.

The holidays come with a dizzying array of demands — parties, shopping, traffic, baking, cleaning, decorating and entertaining, to name just a few. Mothers or other women in the household tend to be the ones who send the cards and maintain the social fabric of the family. This can leave women feeling especially overwhelmed.

Here in North America, Thanksgiving and Christmas arrive just as our part of the earth tilts away from the sun, the least favorable position for those affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — that nasty reaction to decreasing amounts of sunlight that results in depressed mood and downright irritability.

Then there’s the “expectation trap.” The holidays have been commercialized and glamorized by our market-driven society. Even though we know Santa Claus is not really coming down the chimney, our expectations of ourselves, our families and our kids are unrealistically high. We may even set ourselves up for the fall into the trap, expecting, for example, that the more we spend on Christmas gifts, the more we will be appreciated. Not.

And then there are those of us who have suffered the loss of loved ones. Each major holiday without them brings profound sadness instead of joy. Rather than celebrating, we want to stay home, stay in our bathrobe, wait it out, eat and sleep, avoiding all we can that reminds us of the obvious.

I have collected a list of coping strategies from a variety of sources, including my clients who suffer with the “holiday blues.” Here are some suggestions:

1.  Admit that this is a sad season for you and work on feeling OK about that.
2.  Vent your feelings with a trusted friend.
3.  Try journaling. Sit down with a blank page. Start with “I feel _____ about the __________ holiday,” and then write whatever comes to mind. Continue for 20 minutes. After you finish, shred the note; no one needs to know how you feel.
4.  If you live with others, delegate responsibilities. Be prepared to lower your standards, however. It doesn’t matter if others don’t do things as well as you do.
5.  Pick one person in your life to forgive for something.
6.  Identify a charity and a way you can help. Then do it. This year.
7.  Stay on a regular schedule as much as possible regarding food, exercise, chores and sleep.
8.  Reduce spending on gifts for kids. Very few of my clients come to therapy because they didn’t get the bicycle they wanted for Christmas. Kids benefit from learning to cope with life’s disappointments.
9.  If you experience symptoms of SAD, get as much sunlight as you can. Buy a therapeutic sunlamp if you can afford one.
10.  Exercise a bit more during the holidays. Physical exercise not only helps you avoid weight gain, it also improves brain function and relieves stress.
11.  If you have symptoms of clinical depression as the season approaches, such as loss of pleasure in things you usually enjoy, or if you find yourself feeling increasingly sad, hopeless, numb, guilty, angry or feeling that life is not worth living, it is time to get professional help. Make an appointment with your regular medical provider right away, or call one of the numbers below for help.

24-hour Hope Now Hotline:

(502) 589-4313 or (800) 221-0446

Call via Kentucky Relay at 711 if deaf or hard of hearing.

Sheila Ward, APRN, is a psychiatric nurse practitioner with Norton Women’s Counseling Services. She provides women’s mental health services at Norton Suburban Hospital, future home of Norton Women’s Hospital and Norton Children’s Hospital – St. Matthews.


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