Beating Depression during the Holidays

Deborah Gray Health Guide
  • Okay, so let's say that you are feeling somewhat depressed this holiday season, and you have a strong suspicion that the reasons listed in my previous SharePost (and below) are probably at fault:


    * Lack of money
    * Lack of time
    * Conflicts with family
    * Lack of emotional fulfillment
    * Less sleep, more food and alcohol

    So now that we've identified the problems, how can you keep them from giving you the holiday blues?


    Lack of money


    This year, many of us who normally be happily buying generous gifts for family and friends are fretting over whether we can afford to give anything. As I said in my last SharePost about the holiday blues, I'm knitting all of the presents I'm giving, with a few exceptions for my son. But let's say you're either not the crafty type or are sane enough not to take on six knitting projects in one month. I know it sounds corny, but the best present you can give almost everyone on your list is your time. If you know someone with small children, take it from me that an afternoon of babysitting will be very well received. For someone who is older or otherwise less able physically, cleaning or some handyman work comes in, well, handy. Promise a friend who's a gardener that you'll donate a day in the spring to help them prepare for planting. Cook and deliver a dinner for busy working parents.

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    As far as your kids go, remember, even if they think that they want material goods, what really makes them light up is time spent with you (okay, maybe not teenagers, but the younger ones), and even an afternoon spent playing board games is special to them (and to you).


    Lack of Time


    The problem that many of us run into during the holidays is that we try to do everything. We're not selective. Decide what your priorities are (with your family, if applicable). Do you want to focus on food or activities? Are homemade presents or beautiful wrapping at the top of your list? Or is the most important thing having a beautifully decorated house? Choose one of two things to focus on, and spend minimal time on the others.


    Also consider moving some celebrating and activities to January. Every single year I vow to make Christmas cookies, and to be honest I don't remember when I last succeeded - sometime in the eighties, I think. Then once the season is over, I don't even consider doing it. This really makes no sense, when you think about it. It's the activity that's important - not whether it makes it onto the calendar before December 25th. So this year I'm going to make snowman and snowflake cookies with my son in the week after Christmas, when we have plenty of time to actually enjoy it.


    Family Conflicts


    Despite our fervent wishes that everything will be sweetness and light at our family get-togethers, there's usually at least one person who potentially ruins the event, either by drinking, nastiness or otherwise anti-social behavior. Short of slipping the offending family member a few sleeping pills, what can you do? If it's an issue that everyone except the party in question openly admits the existence of, it might be a good idea to have a family pow-wow ahead of time to come up with a strategy. You can gather everyone online using an internet phone service like Skype or an online chat room.


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    I'll bet you anything that no one has done anything other than complain bitterly. You never know what kind of ingenious ideas several heads put together might come up with. If nothing else, you all will probably feel better about taking some control over the situation.


    If the problem with this relative is solely yours, consider short-term therapy to provide you with some strategies to survive the situation with your sanity intact.


    Lack of Emotional Fulfillment


    If whatever you've been filling your holiday season with during the last few years is leaving you feeling empty, try something new. Bring back a tradition from your childhood or create new traditions. You know what I remember and cherish about the Christmases of my childhood? I remember the Christmas Eve candlelight service at church, I remember driving around looking at Christmas decorations in the neighborhood, impromptu caroling to Christmas records, and I remember watching Christmas movies and specials with family and friends over the years (watching "The Grinch" at an MIT fraternity is a unique experience).


    Less sleep, more food and alcohol


    It's one of the most simple concepts around, but we usually ignore it during this season. Take care of your health! Your physical well-being really does have an enormous impact on your emotional health, for better or ill.


    Get enough sleep. I don't know about you, but I am not leaving wrapping presents until Christmas Eve anymore. The last few years I've been blearily shuffling off to bed at midnight or one o'clock. Sleep is very important when you're under stress. Don't let yourself get exhausted, or you may end up in bed with a lovely holiday cold.


    Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol is a depressant, pure and simple. It might stave off the blues for an hour or so, but ultimately could contribute to your seasonal depression.


    Try to limit your intake of high sugar and high fat foods. I know that they're yummy and very easy to find during the holidays (you would not believe what I just ate at our department Christmas party), but if you find yourself feeling blue, you should try to maintain a fairly normal diet.


Published On: December 22, 2008