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6 Tips to Help Beat the Holiday Blues

6 Tips to Help Beat the Holiday Blues
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By Mary Jane Horton

There are many reasons the holidays may not be filled with tidings and good cheer for everyone. If you are fifty-plus, chances are your life circumstances have changed: your parents may be gone or sick; kids may have moved far away; friends, as well, may have retired and be far-flung. Many people – especially those who are prone to sadness and depression – find that their changing lives make their profoundly sad during the holidays. And, for those who live in northern climates, the darkness that comes with shorter days can also add to the melancholy.

Jude Bijou, MA MFT, a psychotherapist, professional educator, consultant and author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life (Rivera Press, 2011), has some insight into this particular problem: “This group of people  has a lot of unexpressed sadness due to unresolved hurts and losses in their past. They need to mourn the loss of their dreams of how they think holidays should be, of loved ones who have passed, who are far away, and with whom there are rifts in family relationships. These unexpressed emotions lead to feeling lonely and disconnected. The weather is often cold and stormy, the longer nights of more darkness reflect their inner feelings of being isolated, hopeless, and helpless.”

That’s not me, I don’t get depressed during the holidays, but like many people, I experience lots of different emotions. When my family and kids are around, I am happy but – even still – I sometimes yearn for the days when my kids were little and everything was new and exhilarating and every present they opened made their eyes open wide with excitement. I miss my parents, and feel the divides that have come between me and my siblings when I think of holiday celebrations in the distant past.

Holidays may be difficult times for people who suffer from anxiety or depression, and can be a trigger causing an exacerbation of symptoms, ”adds Christine Weber, Ph.D. a clinical neuropsychologist in Seaford, NY. “Often there is a publically portrayed expectation of the season being wonderful and joyous. The media portrayal of the holidays shows family and friends getting together, exchanging gifts, and sharing a meal.  Everyone appears happy and enjoying one another.  Unfortunately this is not the reality for a number of people.”

Weber also adds that people prone to depression or anxiety do not suddenly change their mood because its holiday time.  And many individuals do not have large families or numerous friends. Being alone is the norm for them.  Whether to spend the holiday alone or with others may not be an option.  Choosing to be alone on a holiday is very different from not having anyone to share time with.

What to do?

“Avoid any expectations during the holiday season that there will be instant happiness,” says Weber. “Taking a more neutral stance may help with expectations that fall short of the desired goal. Hoping for a joyous season is different than expecting one.  And maintain regular hobbies and activities that are enjoyed year round such as listening to music, reading or exercising.  Avoid any harmful behaviors, such as excessive alcohol drinking or increased food consumption.”

Bijou offers these tips about how to survive the holidays:

Allow yourself to cry. Acknowledge the sadness and the losses. Crying does not involve a pity party. While crying, say “Good-bye” to those not in the picture and think of all the lovely things you appreciate about the person, or situation. Or while crying, think helpful thoughts, such as “I am alone and connected. I like me.”

Interrupt the negative thoughts. Locate your depressing thoughts and counter them with a few statements of the larger reality, such as “I’m taking care of myself this holiday season.”

Make a plan. Be proactive. Decide what you want to do with this time of year that will be fun and nurturing. Make the holiday meal a joint effort, with friends you enjoy. Share the meal preparation, enlist the help of all, and skip the china and fancy linens. Make the focus about enjoying each other’s company.

Treat yourself to that special gift. Do something you’ve always wanted to do work on a craft or learn a musical instrument. Don’t have your plan be excessive drinking, eating, and numbing out. This will only make you feel more depressed and down on yourself.

Reach out to others. Lend a hand at a homeless shelter, serve a warm meal, visit children in hospitals. Gestures of giving warm your heart as well as that of the recipient. Send cards to connect up with people you care about.

Make a list of all the things you are grateful for. Write them out and read frequently to keep gratitude in the foreground. And know that this season will pass.

And, finally, of course if you are feeling more depressed or anxious than usual, and if it persists, seek help from a mental health professional.


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