Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Holiday Blues

The Problem
Holiday blues can affect both men and women, young and old. Factors contributing to holiday blues include increased stress and fatigue, unrealistic expectations, too much commercialization, and the inability to be with one's family. The increased demands of shopping, parties, family reunions, and house guests may also contribute to tension and sadness during the holidays. Common stress reactions during the holidays include headaches, excessive drinking, over-eating or not eating enough, and difficulty sleeping.

A post-holiday let down, resulting from emotional disappointments during the holiday months as well as the physical reactions caused by excess fatigue and stress, may cause holiday blues to continue into the new year.

For some people—particularly those who live in the northern, darker regions—holiday blues may be caused by seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD results from fewer hours of sunlight as the days grow shorter during the winter months.

Common Causes:
The holidays are supposed to be a time of happiness, good cheer, joy, fellowship with loved ones and optimistic hopes for the coming new year. During the holiday season, we are bombarded and inundated with reminders of the holidays. The multitude of reminders can be a trigger for several unresolved issues such as:

  • Past loses.

  • Unresolved grief.

  • Anticipating a significant loss.

  • Contrast between then and now.

  • Disappointment about now.

  • Contrast between image of holiday joy and reality of ones life.

  • Sense of increased isolation and loneliness.

The holiday season is also a busier and more stressful time. We have more things to do, more things to buy, there is more traffic, parking is more difficult, stores are crowded and we wait longer. The extra demands on our time, attention, energy and finances can be very stressful, and for some, the "holiday blues."

"Holiday blues" range from mild sadness during the holidays to severe depression. This sadness or depression can be prevented, and if it’s already present, it can be eased.

If someone you know is experiencing the holiday blues:
  • Try to involve that person in holiday activities, but don't be forceful.

  • Be a good listener. If people express suicidal thoughts or feel depressed, hopeless, or worthless, be supportive. Let them know you are there for them and are willing to help them seek professional help. Never issue challenges or dares.

  • Familiarize yourself with resources such as mental health centers, counseling centers, and hotlines.

  • If the depressed person is chronically ill, express that you understand that the holidays do not cure the illness.

  • Be aware that holidays can be difficult for people, especially when reality doesn't measure up to their expectations. Help them establish what is realistic and what is not.
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