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Holiday blues often hit hard

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Related: Signs of depression

It's almost Christmas, and everyone is excited. Expectations rise as temperatures drop and the newspapers, television and even the stores are filled with cheerful stories of love and hope and everything that is wonderful about the season.

But what happens the day after Christmas? The day after New Year's?

For many people, all that bright joy disappears as quickly as discarded wrapping paper.

Facing the incoming bills, especially in the current economy, combined with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and other holiday-related factors can lead to depression.

"It is not uncommon for people to feel down, low, and without energy, suffering from a condition labeled the 'holiday blues,'" said Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Virginia Trotter Betts.

Unlike other forms of depression, the "holiday blues" focus on a brief period of time, usually surfacing around Thanksgiving and continuing through New Year's Day.

Three main factors contribute to the onset of holiday depression:

Relationships. People often feel alone or isolated during the holidays for different reasons including separation from loved ones or a loss of family members or friends. Family issues can often intensify during the holiday season, often times bringing on unwanted conflict.

These relationship triggers can also be accompanied by unresolved grief or anger. Also, as people age, they may start feeling more alone as they look back and remember past holidays shared with family and friends.

Finances. Purchasing gifts, traveling, and attending holiday parties may put a larger dent in the pocket book during the holidays than at other times of the year. During the holiday season, these increased financial expectations may cause individuals to feel additional stress.

Economic conditions, including the state of the real estate market and high unemployment rates, are added concerns in 2010.

Physical Demands. Physical stress may be increased by events such as shopping at crowded malls, preparing large dinners, and attending multiple holiday events. People often ignore their healthy lifestyle habits this time of year by indulging in high-calorie holiday foods, neglecting their normal exercise routine, and not attending to personal needs for rest and sleep.

With a few more days left before the holidays are over, it's not too late to take some preventive measures.

* Eat a healthy diet and, if drinking alcohol, do so only in moderation.

* Exercise and get plenty of rest.

* Implement a budget that is reasonable and preplanned.

* Ask for the support of friends and family or seek community and volunteer opportunities.

* Relax and let others share some of the responsibilities for holiday tasks.

Continuing symptoms

Like some guests, those "holiday blues" can linger longer than they should.

"If feelings of the blues, sadness, or anxiety persist past the holiday season, please consider contacting a mental health expert or agency as soon as possible as you may be dealing with a more serious condition that should be addressed," said Betts. "This year is especially tough for so many people due to the downturn of the economy."

Susan Gillpatrick, with Centerstone, agrees.

Sometimes, she said, you need to seek help.

"If you or someone you know recognizes any of the following signs, it may be an indication to ask for help and seek professional counseling," she said. "If it has already occurred to you that you need help and you would benefit from talking with someone to help tow you out of the ditch you're in, then you should seek help. The greatest warning that we need additional assistance comes from our own sense of need.

"Asking for help is a significant step in the right direction."

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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Tell me about it! I've had it longer than it's had a name. Since about 14, I guess. Back in the days of my youth it wasn't recognized as a specific medical problem, and folks who exhibited it's symptoms were generally characterized as being lazy, dreamers, neer do wells or just plain bums. About the nearest most folks ever got to understanding a person with SAD was to say that they had a case of wanderlust, so the prudent thing to do at the time was to hide it the best you could.

Even after I married the symptoms didn't go away completely, though there was a marked reduction in the length and severity of the attacks in most years, and there were a few years that I don't recall being bothered at all.

Since the passing of my wife a few years ago the attacks have intensified considerably, and this present year has been the worst that I can recall to this point. It came earlier, has hit me harder and been more constant than usual. I've been trying for several weeks to post a few comments on some of the subjects that David has posted over the past few weeks, but can't concentrate long enough to get my thoughts together.

I would strongly urge anyone who suspects that they may be dealing with SAD to seek medical advice. It just might brighten your next 60 or so winter seasons.

As for myself, Old SAD and I have had too many battles for me to bring a third party (medication) into our annual go round at this point in time. We've been going one on one for nearly 60 years now, and I have beat him every year. The only way Old SAD could win would be for me to give in and start to rely on a chemical substance instead of my own determination, and that's not happening. But if medication and possibly other forms of treatment had been available to me as a young man, I have no doubt that I would have availed myself of same, and I urge others to seek help if you feel you need it. With the resources available today to treat SAD there is no need for anyone to allow it to become a regular, permanent part of your life, as it has mine.

-- Posted by ilikeoldsongs on Tue, Dec 28, 2010, at 10:15 PM

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