The six weeks encompassing Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s – collectively called “the holidays” – are for most a magically unique time of year, filled with holiday carols, reunions, displays of colorful lights, love, and affection, often expressed through gift giving.

But for some, the holidays bring hurt. Caused by factors including the weather, separation, death, stress, unrealistic expectations, hyper-sentimentality, guilt or overspending, holiday depression – also called the “holiday blues” – can zap the merriment out of even the most wonderful time of the year.

Holiday depression affects 1 million people every year. Men and women, young and old, all fall victim to feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, guilt, and fatigue during this emotionally charged season. Men’s Health Network offers the following suggestions to help identify and ward off – or at least better cope with – potential sources of holiday depression.

Acknowledge that you’re hurting. Others may expect certain attitudes and behaviors from you that you may not feel. The retail industry’s “holiday hype” presents an overly sentimental, nostalgic and even imaginary notion of the holidays (usually to try to sell something). Sill, feelings of sadness, loneliness, or depression don’t automatically vanish just because it’s the holidays. Acknowledge pain, be open and honest with others, refuse to feel guilty, and get help if necessary.

Have a plan to deal with feelings. Try to surround yourself with people who care about and support you. Invest yourself in an exercise program (aerobic activities such as walking, running, cycling, etc., are recommended because of their mood-elevating ability). If necessary, see a doctor or therapist. And learn to say “no.” Others’ expectations are not a reason for your own mental health to suffer.

Set realistic expectations. Keep expectations realistic rather than perfectionistic. Prioritize and reduce self-imposed holiday preparations. Delegate responsibilities. Realistically plan a budget, spending and shopping. Do less and enjoy more. Obsessing over endless details is bound to change this long-awaited, once-a-year season from a time of exuberance to one of exhaustion.

Consider that your depression may actually be caused by this time of year. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, occurs because of reduced exposure to sunlight, which is just what happens during the holiday season when daylight hours are shorter. Check with a doctor to see if light therapy might be beneficial.

Help others. Soup kitchens, homeless shelters, nursing homes, churches and scores of other organizations can always use volunteers, especially at critical times of the year. Additionally, you’ll benefit from the company of other people around you rather than being alone.

Bury the hatchet. Perfect families don’t magically appear during the holidays, but family conflicts can. “Letting go” and forgiving can help heal past wounds. Additionally, family feuds can even be deliberately set aside until after the high-tension holidays in order to facilitate the peace and enjoyment of everyone at this special time.

Start new traditions. Both families and traditions change with time. Rather than reminiscing over the “good old days,” accept the fact that change may be necessary, grasp the season as it is now, look forward to the future, and create your own family traditions that can be enjoyed and even preserved for future generations.

Keep alcohol intake low. Remember, alcohol has a depressive effect on your nervous system, so if you’re experiencing the holiday blues, drinking too much alcohol will only worsen your depression.

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