Holiday stress can lead to a case of the blues

By Abby Morris
Star Staff

Once the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over, for some, a new feeling begins to settle in.
   "Post holiday depression is kind of the 'blahs' or the 'blues' that often follow the holidays," said Dr. Donald W. Larkin, senior vice president of impatient services at Woodridge Hospital. "Often we anticipate and anticipate and anticipate and then bam, it's over, and we have a let down once it is over."
   According to Larkin, sometimes people paint an unrealistic picture of what the holiday should be like and then when things do not work out as planned, disappointment sets in. "Often with the glorious movies and TV shows we see, it's hard for our lives to measure up if we set that as the expectation," he said. "We're not Ossie and Harriet, we do have problems. Of course, we're not the Ozbournes either."
   Dr. Renate Rosenthal, a clinical psychologist with the UT Health Science Center in Memphis, agreed that many times, people set their expectations too high around the holiday season. "In our culture, we have built up the holidays as something that is so wonderful, and we buy into it, even if we don't want to," she said. "Real life doesn't always look like that."
   Both Rosenthal and Larkin stated that post holiday depression is not the same as clinical depression. While clinical depression has more severe and extreme feelings of sadness, Rosenthal said, post holiday depression is more of "a blue mood." And also unlike clinical depression, Larkin said, post holiday depression is generally not diagnosable.
   In addition to setting high expectations for the season, some people may fall into the over-commercialization of the holiday and over spend on gifts for family and friends. Then, according to Larkin and Rosenthal, after the first of the year, the bills begin to come in for all of the merchandise people have bought on credit cards. "Sometimes its surprising how much of a credit card bill you can run up during the holiday season," Larkin said. "Then it's time to pay the piper."
   Overindulgence in general, not just on spending, can cause feelings of emptiness and disappointment after the holidays, according to Rosenthal. Excessive eating or drinking can add to the situation. "People often overeat during the holidays and then they gain weight and can't fit into their clothes and they really begin to kick themselves," she said.
   Friends and family can also add to the stress of the holidays. "It's often a season where we miss family and friends who are no longer with us because of a death, or divorce, or because they moved away," Larkin said.
   Also, unresolved family disputes can ruin holiday spirits for some, Rosenthal said. "Holidays are a time for family togetherness. Try to really make a conscious effort to accept people the way they are and not try to change them," she said. "Some people can throw out bait for an argument, but you don't have to bite into it."
   Once the feelings brought on by post holiday depression settle in, it is important to find out what is causing them and try to move past the problem.
   "It is really important, when we find ourselves feeling blue and out of sorts, to take an emotional pulse and find out what is wrong," Rosenthal said.
   Both Rosenthal and Larkin recommend that if a person is suffering from post holiday depression, they should take time for themselves and do activities they like, preferably outdoors if the weather permits.
   "Often, part of the holiday blues is that we can't be outdoors; we can't be in the sunshine doing the things we like to do," Larkin said. Rosenthal agreed, adding "There is never a substitute for taking good care of yourself." Both suggest taking a walk outside and getting plenty of rest as a way to recuperate from the holiday blahs.
   The best way to handle post holiday depression, according to Larkin and Rosenthal, is to plan ahead to avoid the stress of the holidays and to realize one's limitations.
   "Try to simplify things," Rosenthal said. "Chances are nobody will be disappointed and everybody will feel relieved."
   Painting a more realistic picture of what the holidays are and just how much one person can do will help people avoid the fatigue and blues of the holidays, Larkin said. "Often we set unrealistic expectations on ourselves to do everything, go to everybody, see everybody. Basically, we just wear ourselves out."
   Another suggested Larkin had was to set a strict spending budget for holiday shopping and entertaining and stick to it. Another helpful hint was to start a holiday savings account in January and put money into it throughout the year so that when the holidays roll around, you can pay cash for items instead of charging them.