Beat the holiday blues

Amanda Rogers
Staff Writer

   For many, holidays are a time for happiness and celebration. It is a time of joy and refection filled with parties and family gatherings. It is also the time of the year when more people become depressed. 

  Many people of all ages are affected by losses. These losses can take on greater significance during the holidays.  People are reminded that loved ones are no longer there to share the holidays with them.  Grown children are busy with their own social obligations, and may not realize that their parents or grandparents look forward to a visit or a phone call.

   “Many college-age males and females can have symptoms of depression during the holidays despite the fun activities that accompany the festive season.  Financial concerns, separation from parents, and a recent loss such as a death or break-up can be just a few contributing factors,” said Laura Hughes, UAM director of Counseling.

   Many factors can contribute to the “holiday blues.” Financial burdens, stress, fatigue, commercialized holidays and family expectations are just a few. There are parties to cook for, presents to buy, houses to tidy and yards to decorate. Symptoms of tension and stress resulting from the holidays can be headaches, binge-eating, binge-drinking or even anger.

   Signs of depression include weight loss or gain, difficulty sleeping, nervous behavior, low energy, irritated mood, disinterest in usual activities, feelings of worthlessness, difficulty thinking or concentrating and thoughts of suicide. 

   Follow these strategies to help cope with stress and depression during the holiday season:

  • Keep expectations for the holiday season manageable by not trying to make the holiday "the best ever." Set sensible goals. Organize time. Make a list and prioritize the most important activities. Be realistic about what one can and cannot do. Try not to focus on one day, but the whole season.

  • Remember that the holiday season does not automatically erase reasons for feeling sad or lonely. There is room for these feelings to be present, even if one chooses not to express them.

  • Let go of the past. Do not be disappointed if holidays are not like they used to be. Life brings changes. Each holiday season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Do not be set up for sadness by thinking everything has to be just like the "good old days." Look toward the future. Do something for someone else. It is an old remedy, but it can help. Donate toys to a toy drive, donate food to a local food pantry or volunteer time for others.

  • Many holiday activities are cost-friendly. Drive around town to enjoy Christmas lights and holiday decorations. Watch a holiday parade or attend a Christmas play. Go window shopping or make cookies and candy!

  • Do not drink too much. Excessive drinking can add to feelings of depression.

  • Do not be afraid to try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a way never done before.

  • Spend time with people who are supportive and caring.  Reach out to make new friends if alone during special times.  

  • Find time for one’s self. Divide responsibilities between family members, co-workers, or friends when preparing for a party. Use extra time to sip a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy the crisp, cool weather!

   If you or someone you know shows evidence of depression, it is important that you see your primary care physician – or encourage the person you know to do so. Services are available through the counseling and testing center located on the second floor of Harris Hall.  If you missed the Suicide Prevention Program held Dec. 7 at the Gibson University Center, stop by the counseling center and speak with Hughes.

   “Screening forms and information on how to help a friend or family member take the steps to deal with depression are available in the Counseling Office,” she said. “It is also important during this time that students, faculty and staff realize that not everyone who may be depressed will show symptoms. Some people are very good at hiding these symptoms.”

   Depression can be treatable. First it must be recognized, then the doctor must determine that there is not a medical reason for the depression. Only then can treatment be initiated. During this coming holiday season, give someone the biggest gift: help them recognize depression, and help make sure that it is evaluated and addressed.

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