Holiday Cheer & Another Difficult Year…

Coping with The Holiday Blues

As 2011 draws to a close many of us are shaking our heads and saying, “How much more can I take?…furloughs, staff reductions, limited overtime opportunities, proposed changes to our work conditions and all of us doing more and more with less.” Clearly these are difficult and challenging times. Before I get too grim there may be a glimmer of hope.  I recently heard a few bullish economists who were willing to stick their necks out suggesting a slight improvement in the economy beginning in 2013…let’s pray these optimistic economists are right.

In the meantime, it’s important to have strategies to cope with all the increased stress and uncertainty in our lives. Coping methods can be of great help, especially during the Holiday Season and as we try to weather another difficult year. A ‘classic’ method that helps many people during the Holiday season is to take a moment to reflect and “count your blessings.” It’s so easy to focus on what’s wrong in your life but it is also just as easy to pay attention to what’s right about your life. Take a few minutes and think about all the good things in your life that you perhaps take for granted…your health, your family, your friends… Try this little exercise – make a detailed list of all the positive things you are grateful to have in your life right now. After your done, review the list and notice if you feel a positive change in your mood. Add an additional lift to your life by watching Jimmy Stewart in “A Wonderful Life”…even if you’ve seen it a hundred times — watch it again this year!

Do you have a positive belief, philosophy, prayer or inspirational quote that you utilize? The object of this coping technique is to draw on a phrase and recite it in your mind when you are presented with a difficult challenge. A classic example of this is the “Serenity Prayer” one of the basic coping philosophies of Alcoholics Anonymous. It goes something like this, God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…The courage to change the things I can …And the wisdom to know the difference. I can’t tell you how many people I talk to who find peace and comfort in the realization that there are some things in life that you just cannot change. To be able to recognize those specific things they “can’t control” and to be able to detach from those situations is just so freeing and empowering.

Here are a few other beliefs or inspirational quotes that you could recite that people find helpful: “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger…”, “When one door closes, another opens…”, “Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.”, “Courage doesn’t roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I will try again tomorrow.”

As we move into the Holiday Season take a moment to remember that while the holidays can be a time of happiness, joy and celebration, it can also be a time of sadness, disappointment, and even depression for some individuals. These negative feelings can be a result of many factors.

Some common causes of holiday blues are the recent loss of a family member, good friend or colleague, increased stress and pressure, unresolved grief, family misunderstandings or conflict, as well as ‘end of year’ fatigue. Most professionals agree that the end of the year and the holidays bring on tons of extra demands. Some people feel like they want to ‘do it just right’ and unfortunately they run themselves ragged. Images in the media such as lavish dinners, elaborate family get-togethers and the barrage of gift-giving commercials may be problematic especially in these difficult economic times.

People respond to the stress of the holidays in different ways. Reactions include difficulty sleeping, social isolation, irritability, and over-eating. Excessive use of alcohol is also a common response to holiday stress. Alcohol in moderation is considered heart-healthy. However, excessive drinking can make your heart pump harder to get blood to peripheral arteries. Worse is something called “holiday heart syndrome,” in which excessive alcohol use literally irritates the heart muscle to trigger an irregular heartbeat.

It is important to establish realistic goals and expectations and remember that the holidays will not prevent sadness or loneliness. If someone has experienced a death or romantic break-up, he or she should not be obligated to feel festive. It may help to talk openly and express feelings rather than trying to ignore them. Take advantage of social support during this time with family and friends.

Another way to help reduce stress is to know your spending limit and stick to it. Set a detailed budget and do not put pressure on yourself if you cannot buy expensive gifts. Planning ahead is also a way to decrease stress during this hectic time. It may be helpful to develop a calendar of specific events, although it is important to remember to schedule some quiet time and relaxation.  Also making an effort to get as much sunlight as possible and exercising regularly during this time will offset some of the down swings.

The holiday blues are usually a temporary and occurrence, however, there may be underlying problems that need to be addressed. Depression is a serious, yet treatable condition please make sure to talk with your doctor about depression or make an appointment to see a mental health professional.

Have a wonderful and safe Holiday Season!

Dr. Scott

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