Holiday festivities can lead to holiday blues

By Greg Miller

People become depressed during the Christmas holiday season for a variety of reasons, according to Pat Humphreys, director at Frontier Health's Charlotte Taylor Center.
   Those reasons include "memories of loved ones who have died, the pressure of taking on too much responsibility, lack of sleep and rest, stress from job, family or friends, the demands of shopping and preparations for dinners and parties, drinking and eating too much, financial limitations, high expectations and the inability to be with loved ones."
   Therapy and medication can help reduce depression's symptoms, Humphreys said. "Taking personal responsibility for making changes in your life can also make a positive difference. Keep your expectations for the holidays within reason. Be realistic. Organize your time - including time to relax and enjoy. Live in the present. Comparing everything with the "good ole' days" will usually lead to dissatisfaction. We tend to remember the past better than it really was.
   "I personally think that the biggest stressor during the holiday time is the contrast between what we expect and what we really end up getting. We all want the perfect holiday. So much of our holiday blues is the result of the contrast between what should be and what is, what is and what was, and what we expect of ourselves and others and what we and others can really do.
   "It is important to have more realistic expectations of ourselves and others. Try not to re-create the holidays as we knew them as kids, or when we were married, or when we were young, but instead to try and create something that works for us now.
   "Stay with a healthy diet, exercise and a regular sleep pattern during the holidays. Try something new like community service. It is a good thing to remember to enjoy the holidays as they are and as we make them, rather than as we think they ought to be."
   Humphreys says that one in six Americans suffer from some form of depression during their lifetime. "An estimated 20 million adults suffer from depression," she said. "As site director, I define depression in clinical terms, mostly as a depressed mood that is joined by specific symptoms which come together to form a syndrome. This is when it is time to seek help."
   Symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness, loss of interest in pleasure, sleep disturbance, appetite change, loss or gain of weight ((5-10 pounds is significant), being agitated or restless or fatigued and listless, difficulty concentrating and remembering things, feelings of worthlessness, guilt or excessive blaming, or suicide ideation.
   If depressive symptoms persist for more than two weeks, individuals should seek professional help, Humphreys said.
   "There is no single overriding cause of holiday depression, and depression can occur for a number of reasons," Humphreys said. "One reason is that everyone is so joyous, but a depressed person who is cut off from people and lonely feels even more depressed. Another reason is that there is less light during the holiday season. It has been shown that depression increases in winter."
   Humphreys says those who are more likely to become depressed include "people who have no family, those whose friends are few, or those who live away from those dear to their hearts. Also the elderly are susceptible to holiday blues." Issues relating to the elderly include financial limitations, loss of independence, being alone or separated from loved ones, failing eyesight, loss of mobility, and inability to get to church."
   A person doesn't need to remain depressed during the holiday season, according to Humphreys. "It is important for people who are already depressed to seek professional help," she said. "Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. If already in treatment, it is important for people to take their medications as prescribed and to keep their scheduled therapy appointments."
   Religion, Humphreys said, can play a "very strong" role in helping a person cope with depression, especially during the holidays. A candlelight church service "can be a way to warm the heart and bring a deeper meaning for the holiday celebration."
   Music can be another tool to help a person cope with depression. "The beauty and fulfillment of music can uplift the spirit," Humphreys said. " This also helps those depressed to feel less sorry and encourages a light heart when those in the depressed person's environment are happy and involved in the church or musical service."