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Help for the “Holiday Blues”

December 1, 2011

Dr. Richard Kull, a highly-regarded and well-liked psychiatrist with Masonicare’s Behavioral Health practice, has been evaluating and treating adults and individuals with a variety of behavioral health and psychiatric conditions for many years.  As an expert in the field, Dr. Kull explains that for many, the holiday season often brings sadness and depression, not the joy and happiness that is expected, and offers advice on how to cope during the upcoming holidays.

Contrary to the view that the holiday season is a time of joy and good cheer, many people find that the holidays are anything but.  A condition that can afflict adults of any age, often referred to as the ‘Holiday Blues,’ is more common than you might think.  This condition can be emotionally painful, causing people to experience anxiety, a lack of energy, an absence of joy, or worse – a clinical episode of depression.

 How can it be that this time, so designed to lift the spirits, ends up being a low point for some?  It is likely that a combination of one or more factors plays a role in making this such a difficult time of year.  The winter months themselves, for example, can influence many who are vulnerable to its shorter days and longer periods of darkness.  This condition may be Seasonal Affective Disorder, known as SAD, which is experienced as fatigue, lack of energy, decreased concentration, increased need for sleep and weight gain. 

Others have difficulties with the holidays because of their individual life circumstances, which may be at odds with the idyllic picture of family, friends and good times that are so often expected at this time of year.  For many, there is a stark difference between the ideal Hallmark card or Norman Rockwell painting and the actual experience of hectic days, exhaustion, and the effort needed when making holiday preparations.  For others, the holidays only underscore what is absent in their lives and can bring on heightened feelings of loneliness or isolation.  Others may find the holidays difficult because they brings back recollections of happy times gone by, of loved ones lost, or of opportunities forsaken.

Regardless of the personal situation underlying the “Holiday Blues,” a few recommendations can be offered.  To the extent one can, the first step is to recognize the negative feelings if and when they arrive.  Once identified, it can become easier to appreciate that negative thinking so often associated with the holidays is itself non-productive and self-defeating.  When this thinking is acknowledged, it is possible to reframe the experience of the holidays and not allow toxic thinking to dominate the holiday experience. 

This can be done in many ways.  Finding a bit of joy in small things around us, helping others in need, or even saying a friendly hello to neighbors, helps to boost positive feelings and combat the negative ones.  Reaching out to old friends and wishing them the best is a small gesture that can go a long way toward feeling connected and less lonely.  Giving to others, in whatever way we can, actually helps to fill us with good feelings, not to mention to be in synch with the Spirit of the Season.

Simply by exposing ourselves to natural sunlight for an extra half hour a day, or by putting the shades up and flooding our homes with natural light, we can resist the winter blues.

For those with more serious symptoms of depression, clinical evaluation can lead to a treatment plan that is individualized and targeted to rectify the underlying problem.

The upcoming holidays can be a difficult challenge for some, but help is available for those who need it.  Therapy can be directed at helping to reframe the experience of the individual into healthier ways of thinking and feeling.  Medications can sometimes be used to address stubborn symptoms that are outside of one’s control.

If you or a loved one experiences depression during the holidays, remember – there’s no need to suffer in silence.  Understanding and treatment are readily available, but it’s up to you to take advantage of it!