How to cope when the season has you feeling blue.
With holidays around the corner, happy expectations are in ample supply around your home, workplace and social circles. You’re receiving well wishes from the grocery store clerk, TV news anchors, family and friends to name a few. There is no escaping the excitement but wait. Are you feeling less than happy? Could you be dreading the holiday season and wish you could simply fast forward right through it?
Actually, you are not alone. In fact for many, depression increases during the holiday season. Feeling blue during this season could be a normal response to increased stress caused by too many things to do and too many places to be with so little time. There are financial strains of presents and parties and feelings that you must spend time with people and family members who bring about more anxiety. Or, perhaps you have lost an important person in your family or circle of friends, so there might be an empty place at the table. As a result of these factors and more, you might be one of many who experience depression during the holidays, but you might not have recognized it as such. Regardless of the reason, there is help available to help you cope.
You may wonder, “How do I know if it is a passing bad mood or if this truly depression?” Feeling a bit down for a day or two during this time of year is normal because you might be overtired or fall into the temptation to overeat or have too much to drink, which can also throw your system out of whack. If, on the other hand, you don’t feel better after some needed rest and recuperation, you should look into what is causing you to feel down and possibly depressed.
It is helpful to understand what causes your depression. You might feel depressed every year at this time and find it doesn’t go away until the weather begins to warm up during springtime. This situation is most likely Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, which is a depressed mood experienced during months with less sunshine. Some of SAD’s symptoms include increased sleep, not wanting to get out of bed in the morning, slower thinking as if in a fog and increased irritability. SAD is most often helped by using SAD light therapy, which helps your brain get enough intense light (like the summer sunshine) so that you can feel more awake earlier in your day. You can
find information about SAD light therapy at several online sites.
Alternately, your depression could be part of a larger problem resulting from increased stress due to unresolved personal, work or health problems. Symptoms are often similar to SAD, but in addition, you might feel a deep sadness for no specific reason, experience poor sleep, cry for no reason, feel edgy and agitated, worry excessively about little things, and have less interest in participating with enjoyable activities. Everyone gets busy during the holidays, but sometimes being overly busy might be used as a distraction to prevent dealing with underlying problems. Ultimately, this type of coping strategy can make your depression worse in the long run.
GRIEVING A LOSS
Grief can be extremely intense during the holidays, especially if you have lost someone close to you in the past year or two. Every activity might remind you that this time last year, you got to spend time with that person. In addition, you might feel angry because your loved one is not physically present. Be patient through the emotions
of grief because it can take at least two years to regroup and recreate a new normal. Of course your loved one will not be forgotten, but you can find new ways to begin experiencing joy again.
First, keep it simple. Choose events are that are most important to you, and make plans to do only those events. Going places simply to please others can make you feel angry, resentful and unhappy. Choose to be with people who help you to feel more loved. When you do have to be involved with people or events you don’t enjoy, keep the visits short so that you remain more in control of your day. Downsize your to-do list by one or two things from what you had planned. The necessary stuff seems to get done, and the less important stuff drains energy and can force you to run extra errands during lunch or at night. Eat lunch slowly and consider it an important break during this hectic time. Taking time to slow down for a few moments midday can give you more energy at the end of the day.
Second, take mini breaks during your day, and do it often. The following techniques provide a break from negative
thinking by increasing oxygen to your brain and reducing the stress response, which help to increase positive feelings:
Breath. When you feel stress or sadness, take two slow, deep breaths while focusing on something that is beautiful or pleasing.
Move. Walk or jog in your favorite place midday or before you go home for the evening.
Stretch. Full-body yoga poses can be performed anywhere and anytime you have room.
Also, remember to do these stretches and deep breathing techniques before bed to promote a better night’s sleep.
Third, if you have lost a special person in your life, keep that person as present as you wish. Most likely others miss them as well, and sharing good memories can help everyone. While initially the memories might bring tears, they are often tears of relief and joy because your loved one is being remembered.. Also, remember to give and accept as many hugs as possible. Physical contact helps to relieve emotional stress and the feelings of isolation you are experiencing due to your loss.
But there is a word of caution. If your depression and sense of overwhelm don’t lift with any of the above suggestions, talk with your doctor immediately. Be assured, depressed thoughts are never as bad as imagined, but they should be addressed immediately in order to get your life moving in the right direction. Remember, there is help and hope available through professional support and intervention.
Laurel A. Kramer, PhD, is a licensed psychologist with SSM Health Medical Group-Behavioral Medicine.