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Having a blue holiday

?It?s the most wonderful time of the year . . . ? In reality, this isn?t the case for thousands of people. In fact, surveys have shown a consistently high percentage of people say they dread the holiday season because of the high levels of stress, expectations and financial strain. Overcome by stress and high expectations, some people can slip into depression brought on by the holidays.

?It can be frustrating,? explained Dale Archer, Jr, MD, psychiatrist with the Institute for Neuropsychiatry. ?People are already stressed out, and then they get mad at themselves for being sad during a time when everyone should be happy. It?s a cycle of emotions that can cause tremendous guilt, anxiety and family difficulties.?

Symptoms of holiday depression include headaches, anxiety, sleeping difficulties, excessive drinking and overeating. Social anxiety plays a part, too, explained Dr. Archer.

?For those who really don?t enjoy being with a large group of people, the holidays bring a particular anxiety. First, you?re expected to participate because ?it?s the holidays? and then, you?re expected to have a wonderful time. If you don?t, something must be wrong with you. This pressure is more than some can handle.?

Movies and television programs portray the holidays as a seemingly perfect season, complete with beautifully decorated homes, families re-united, and a delicious dinner enjoyed by everyone. For those who attempt to achieve this kind of holiday, the stress can be unbearable. Other triggers include financial constraints, missing loved ones who live far away, friends who have passed on, relatives who demand too much, having to entertain house guests and simply, fatigue.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, also contributes, said Dr. Archer.

?Because we don?t get as much sunlight during the winter months, some people are more prone to depression during this time.?

Holiday depression can affect both men and women, old and young. People who don?t have a strong support system of friends and family, such as the elderly, may be especially susceptible to holiday depression. Those who have suffered the loss of a loved one may feel melancholy during the holidays because of the emphasis on family gatherings.

If you find yourself feeling blue this holiday season, Dr. Archer suggests focusing on others.

?Focus on someone else to distract yourself from your own problems. Helping others is a good therapy for many problems.?

Dr. Archer also cautions against isolation.

?Even if you don?t feel like it, get out and do something. You almost have to force yourself to be sociable in order to get over depression.?

Closing yourself off from people and holiday activities will just make things worse, he says.

Other tips to overcome holiday depression include:

Keep expectations manageable.

Delegate responsibility. You don?t have to do everything yourself. Allowing others to have a part in the preparation helps to spread the cheer and relieve you of duties.

Talk about fond memories and missed loved ones, remembering only the good times.

Anticipate uncomfortable situations. Plan how to handle them.

Communicate your feelings. Explain how you feel to a close friend or family member. They can help you navigate through stressful social situations and make sure you don?t take on too much.

Holiday blues generally go away once the holiday season has passed.

But Dr. Archer says if your depression lingers or becomes more serious, you should seek professional help.

?If the depression disrupts your physical well being, such as sleep habits, appetite, or energy level, or if you lose interest in activities you once enjoyed, it?s a good idea to be evaluated. There are remedies available to help bring back the joy in the holiday season.?

For more information on holiday depression, call the Institute for Neuropsychiatry at 477-7091.
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