By: Donna Ledbetter

Managing Holiday Depression

"Tis the season to be jolly!" This refrain is sung almost as soon as the jack-o-lanterns hit the shelves of stores. Everywhere you look are jolly reminders of the upcoming holidays: cards, lights, glitz and glitter, turkeys and pilgrims, Santa and reindeer, sales and more sales, menorahs and dreidels, sentimental Hallmark commercials and another showing of Bing Crosby crooning the lyrics of "White Christmas." There's a steady flow of reminders until the last sigh and strain of "Auld Lang Syne."

However, if you look carefully at the faces, listen to the conversations and read between the lines, you may discover everyone is not necessarily feeling so jolly, including perhaps, yourself. In place of feeling jolly may be stress and strain, tension and pensiveness, sadness and grief or a pervasive listlessness that may be melancholia.

Unrealistic Expectations

These feelings may be catalyzed by unrealistic expectations of the holidays. These expectations are often generated by advertising and may also be generated by our nostalgia of past holidays. Some people try to recreate the "perfect" holiday of their childhood or are trying to create the "perfect" holiday they never had in childhood. Some use holidays as a way to deny the pain of their lives. Others use holidays as a good excuse to overspend, overeat, or overdrink, because after all, they only come once a year!

Many people are very lonely in their lives, and holidays usually intensify these feelings. They may not have family or friends that others have. Holidays also intensify feelings of sadness and grief due to personal losses surrounding a death or the dissolution of a marriage and a changed family because of separation and divorce. The depth of the loss may be great.

Unrealistic expectations generally result in a reality that suggests there are not unlimited financial resources or unlimited energy. Problems in families do not magically go away. Overindulging often creates more problems. Holidays do not diminish grief but intensify it. It is no wonder that so many people experience anger, fatigue and disappointment. It is no wonder that so many experience anxiety and mild depression that often lead to irritability, insomnia or digestive problems. So if you have the "blues" or feel depressed or are close to someone else who seems to be struggling, know that what is going on is common. The holidays stir up many emotions in everyone. It is a complex time with complex feelings.

10 Ways to Take Care of Yourself

  • Acknowledge the feelings. Be honest with yourself about where they are being generated.
  • Be realistic about expectations. Set a realistic budget. Set limits to what you can do or places you can go.
  • Share responsibilities and make some time just for yourself. Some quiet in the midst of the flurry may be helpful. Pace yourself to avoid fatigue.
  • Accept the reality of struggles and conflicts with your immediate or extended family. Do not expect the holiday to remedy all problems. You may want to limit lengthy celebrations.
  • Be open to creating new rituals or traditions that can honor the "new" family that is created as a result of the death of someone or after divorce and/or remarriage. Decide which traditions you may be able to hold on to as a way of honoring the person/family of the past.
  • Acknowledge the feelings of grief and loss. Acknowledge unresolved griefs from the past that may be catalyzed. Find someone to talk to if you're lonely, reach out to someone to share time with or to exchange a gift with.
  • Volunteer for a needy cause in order to feel useful.
  • Take care of your body by exercising, eating well, and getting enough rest or sleep. Physically caring for yourself will help counter the stress and alleviate some of the feelings of depression.
  • Rely on your faith and relationship with God to help you through the holiday.
  • Give a gift to yourself and create what you need for yourself.

Most of the feelings associated with the holidays will pass once January gets under way. However, if the feelings and symptoms do not go away and persist every day for longer than several weeks, then the depression is more serious than just the "holiday blues." You may need to seek the help of a therapist for counseling and/or your doctor.

In the meantime, remember that the feelings are common, that it is better to express them than deny them, that the feelings remind us to look at our lives and acknowledge our expectations and that feelings remind us to acknowledge both our hurts and our joys, our wounds and our blessings.