By Nancy White
I’ll have a blue Christmas without you,
I’ll be so blue just thinking about you.
December 5, 2012 (San Diego’s East County)--Elvis Presley aside, the holiday blues are nothing to sing about. For many the holidays are not a time of cheer, but of dread, exhaustion and even depression.
What distinguishes the holiday blues from cases of severe depression are not the symptoms – they’re similar – but the duration. For those who are vulnerable, the blues tend to arrive just before the holidays – in anticipation – and fade when the calendar turns. The symptoms generally are a lack of interest in usually pleasant activities, sleep disturbances, appetite changes, agitation, anxiety, feelings of guilt or difficulty in concentrating.
The causes may be loneliness from the loss of loved ones, a hectic pace of shopping, entertaining and decorating that leads to exhaustion, strained family dynamics that make get-togethers want-to-avoids, or the financial worries that result from overspending. There can be physical causes, the draggy feeling from consuming too much alcohol, indulging in too many sweets and skipping exercise. Not to mention the psychological effects of shorter days and daylight, called seasonal affective disorder. Of course, in San Diego we are spared the full-blown cabin fever of colder climes.
Don’t let the holiday blues get you down. There are ways to cope. Here are a few:
- Keep your expectations modest. Don’t fall into a trap of what holidays are supposed to be or how you are supposed to feel.
- If traditional activities are a cause for dread, do something different this year.
- Pace yourself. Forget the unimportant stuff. So what if all the decorations don’t get put up? Skip a party if you’d rather not.
- Delegate. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Besides, other people often want to help and be involved.
- If you are lonely, try volunteering some time to help others.
- Avoid the blahs with a walk to reduce stress, a glass or two less of alcohol, and only a nibble of the goodies that produce sugar highs.
- Keep track of spending. Post-holiday bills can be a real downer.
- Avoid the Scrooges and Grinches – try to spend time with positive people.
- Don’t compare past and current holidays. When you compare, you despair.
- Be careful about resentments related to holidays past. Declare an amnesty with a relative or friend over frictions of the past.
- Take a breather and make some quiet time for yourself.
But what if it’s more than the holiday blues? What if the feelings don’t go away? It is time to check for the onset of clinical depression, a condition that requires professional help. Some 19 million Americans suffer from depressive illnesses every year, estimates the National Institute of Mental Health.
A good first step is a visit with the primary care physician.
Treatment for a mental condition need not be expensive. Many large employers offer Employee Assistance Programs through third parties. It is prepaid, meaning no additional expense to the patient, and is confidential. California Schools VEBA, for example, has an Employee Assistance Program available to 100,000 employees and dependents in San Diego and neighboring counties. Mental health clinics often provide assistance on a sliding scale based on financial to pay.
For those trying to help someone else, information is available from a number of organizations. They include the National Institute of Mental Health (nimh.nih.gov), National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association (ndmda.org), National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (nami.org), National Mental Health Association (nmha.org), American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (aagpgpa.org), American Psychological Association (apa.org), National Institute on Aging (nia.nih.gov/) and Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center (alzheimers.org).
Help is out there. You need not go it alone.
White, a registered nurse with a master’s in public health, is general manager of advocacy programs for McGregor and Associates of San Diego. McGregor administers health care coverage for the 50 school districts in California Schools VEBA, including Cajon Valley, Alpine, Jamul-Dulzura, Julian, La Mesa-Spring Valley, Lakeside, Lemon Grov and Mountain Empire.