A newspaper advertisement recently caught my eye….an ad for a local shopping mall. According to the tag line, that mall was a place “where all your holiday dreams come true.”
Really?! Will the mall heal my sister’s chronic pain? Repair my friend’s broken marriage? Pay off the mortgage? Give me a trip to the Great Barrier Reef? (Never hurts to dream BIG!) Of course not! And that holiday ad is just one of countless examples of the unrealistic media messages and promises that can set us up for disappointment and pain during the holidays.
It’s no wonder millions of Americans suffer from depression during the holiday season. While the holidays can be a time full of joy, cheer, parties and family gatherings - for many of us, it’s a time of loneliness, family strife, reflection on past failures and anxiety about an uncertain future.
Stress, fatigue, over-commercialization, financial constraints, inability to be with family and friends (or the dread of being with other family and friends!) are just some of the factors that turn holiday bliss into the holiday “blues.”
The demands of shopping, parties, family events and house-guests can cause tension that results in headaches, excessive drinking, over-eating and difficulty sleeping. It’s crazy-making!
I used to love Christmas! Decorating the tree. Arranging the figures of Jesus, Mary and the shepherds in the crèche and finding just the right gifts for my family and close friends. It’s the rest of the holiday madness that wore me out and stole my holiday peace and joy.
So I made some changes. I make gift-giving simple…send Christmas cards every-other-year and buy my holiday turkey already cooked at Whole Foods! I no longer decorate every corner of my home. The tree, the crèche and a wreath on the front door are sufficient. I keep shopping, parties and bounteous buffets to a minimum -and make time for exercise, sleep, church events and volunteering.
It’s still tough sometimes. I get overwhelmed by all the holiday hoopla. I long for the Hallmark card family that will never be. But I take control where I can. And so can you.
If you’re bothered by the “blues” as the holidays approach, here’s a list of ways to cope from Mental Health America - one of the best resources I know when it comes to issues of mental health. Check it out. All your holiday dreams may not come true…but you may just be able to relax in reality and enjoy the reason for the season!
Coping With Stress and Depression During the Holidays:
Keep expectations manageable. Try to set realistic goals for yourself. Pace yourself. Organize your time. Make a list and prioritize the important activities.
Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Don’t put the entire focus on just one day (i.e., Thanksgiving Day.) Remember it’s a “season,” and activities can be spread out to lessen stress and increase enjoyment.
It’s ok to feel sad or lonely. You don’t have to ignore feelings just because it’s the holiday season.
Leave “yesteryear” in the past and look toward the future. Life brings changes. Don’t set yourself up by comparing today with the “good ole days.”
Do something for someone else. Try volunteering some of your time to help others.
Enjoy activities that are free. Take a drive to look at holiday decorations, go window-shopping or make a snowman with children. (Try making an angel in the sand if you live near the beach!)
Be aware that excessive drinking will only increase feelings of depression.
Try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a new way.
Spend time with supportive and caring people (avoid toxic family members and friends.) Reach out and make new friends or contact someone you haven’t heard from in awhile.
Save time for yourself! Recharge your batteries (Go for a walk. Watch a funny movie.)
Let others share in the responsibility of planning activities.
Finally, if you need help, get it! I’ve been there. With the correct diagnosis and treatment, you CAN feel better.
Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.