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Chasing Away Those Holiday Blues

Happiness pervades the media at this festive time of year in broadcasting and publications. Parties, laughing people, dancing, foods and all things joyful are seen. The expectation is that we all should feel this way during the holidays.

“Unfortunately, this isn’t true for all of us. In popular terms, many folks seem to develop “Holiday Depression” or the “Holiday Blues,” says Mark Russ, MD, director of Acute Care Psychiatry at Zucker-Hillside Hospital. “Essentially, the sadness often springs from a mismatch between expectations and realities in our lives.”

“The good news is that it tends to be mild and treatable,” adds Martin Kluger, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Great Neck. Both agree that the condition often disappears on its own, largely without special treatment, as soon as the holidays are over.

They also observe that an individual can take steps to control or mitigate one’s own unpleasant feelings and stress.

Stress is an integral part of, or cause of, holiday depression. Many of the tips below are helpful in combating the holiday blues. It helps to be able to recognize those situations and issues that trigger holiday depression. The keys are being realistic, planning ahead and seeking support.

Recognize Holiday Triggers

Mayo Clinic staff suggest the importance of learning to recognize common holiday triggers of difficult moments and feelings, so an individual can disarm them before they lead to a meltdown:

• Relationships - Relationships can cause turmoil, conflict or stress at any time, but tensions are often heightened during the holidays. Family misunderstandings and conflicts can intensify — especially if you’re thrust together for several days. On the other hand, facing the holidays without a loved one can be tough and leave you feeling lonely and sad.

• Finances - With the added expenses of gifts, travel, food and entertainment, the holidays can put a strain on your budget — and your peace of mind. Not to mention that overspending now can mean financial worries for months to come.

• Physical demands - Even diehard holiday enthusiasts may find that the extra shopping and socializing can leave them wiped out. Being exhausted increases your stress, creating a vicious cycle. Exercise and sleep — good antidotes for stress and fatigue — may take a back seat to chores and errands. To top it off, burning the wick at both ends makes you more susceptible to colds and other unwelcome guests.

Tips to Prevent Holiday Stress and Depression

The physician, psychologist and the Mayo Clinic staff have helped compile tips below for a safer, happier holiday season:

• Acknowledge your feelings. It can be normal to feel sadness or grief, and it is OK to cry or express your feelings.

• Reach out for support or companionship. Volunteering helps lift one’s spirits and make new connections.

• Be realistic. Over time as families grow and change, family traditions or rituals can change as well. Be open to creating new memories.

• Set aside differences. Try to accept family and friends as they are, even if they do not meet expectations. Bring up problems at other more appropriate times and places.

• Stick to a budget. Know how much you have to spend in advance and stick to it.

• Plan ahead.

• Learn to say no to avoid feeling resentful and overwhelmed.

• Use healthy habits: exercise, good nutrition, sleep well. Avoid alcohol or use moderation.

• Make time for yourself.

• Live in the moment, but keep yourself grounded.

• Do activities and actions that bring you pleasure.

Interestingly, Drs. Russ and Kluger agreed that holiday depression is not even an “official” condition. There is no such condition in the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual, the bible of the psychiatric and psychologic fields. “Holiday Depression” is not a diagnostic definition or condition. Dr. Russ suggests that the closest diagnostic category for this condition would be “Adjustment Reaction with Depressed Mood.”

Contrary to popular belief, December does not have the highest rate of suicide of any month. Dr. Russ, in fact, commented that December is the month with the lowest rate of suicide, thus debunking this common myth.