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Managing the Holiday Blues 2016

Monday December 12, 2016

Originally published on the NWPF Community Blog on December 18, 2015

The Holiday Season is here with its promise of joy. Families and friends gather to celebrate their traditions and affirm their relationships. Festive foods will be shared. Gifts will be exchanged.  Expectations fill the air.

Many among us will indeed rejoice. Unfortunately many will not.  As mental health professionals remind us every year, vulnerable individuals will experience the holiday as stressful, an occasion that activates (or augments) emotions such as sadness, loneliness, feelings of alienation — “the holiday blues.”

A distinction is in order. The blues are seasonal sentiments; a reaction to felt stress during the holiday. They are, typically short lived. They are not the same as a clinical depression, While it may include sadness or loneliness, or alienation, depression is a serious disturbance of mood and cognition generally characterized by additional symptoms and sign: feelings of despair, anomie, apathy, diminished interest in activities that used to be enjoyable, social withdrawal and isolation, disturbance of sleep, appetite and libido. Thinking becomes negative, pessimistic, inclined to predict failure. The afflicted individual struggles with helplessness and hopelessness. Some may entertain suicidal ideas or plans. In some cases, anger and explosive outbursts occur.

The primary recommendation for clinical depression is prompt psychiatric/psychological treatments that might include cognitive-behavior therapy and placement on medications When the depression is accompanied by self-destructive ideation, immediate psychiatric treatment is needed.

Back to the holiday blues. They are due to stress associated with the holidays.  They lift shortly after the holidays end.

Diverse stressors may be responsible for the blues.

  • The holidays may impose excessive demands on a person’s time, calling for repeated shopping, cleaning, cooking, cleaning again, etc.
  • Gift exchanging, if extravagant, can be financially costly, leaving its mark long after the festivities are over.
  • The emphasis on social connection and engagement with family and friends accentuates for some the awareness that one is instead disconnected, alone, isolated from others.
  • The holidays can find us in the midst of grieving a significant loss, whether a job, health or relationships,
  • The holidays can activate memories of holidays past, when the occasion was a happy one but later vanished.
  • The holidays can also bring to mind many instances of disappointments, when we did not get what we dreamt we would.
  • The commercialization of the holidays with its “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday”, impress many people as a major loss of what the festivities were meant to be.

The Holiday Blues can respond to self-management strategies.

  • Plan ahead so that preparation work does not pile up, resulting in fatigue and resentments.
  • Give according to your means.
  • Tailor your expectations; so that they are within the possible. The Unrealistic expectations often result in disappointments and discouragement.
  • If you are in difficult, lingering, conflict with a friend or family member declare amnesty. Commit to doing your share repairing the relationship, once the holidays are over.
  • If you are grieving a loss and feel lacking in energy respect that this is how you feel. Do not commit to be the engine of the holidays.
  • If your awareness is that you are socially isolated, make the effort to reach out and seek others.
  • Rescue your holiday from materialism and celebrate its history of faith, its spirit
  • Exercise, go on a hike, bike, sing, dance.
  • Avoid overeating and overdrinking.

Happy Holidays!

Julio F. Angulo, PhDJulio F. Angulo, PhD
NWPF Blogger

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