By Jorge Rubal, CEO & Medical Director,
Laguna Beach Community Clinic
As we head into the holiday season, some people may immediately have thoughts of joy, family, and positive change. However, with Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year all coming up quickly, for many people this may also trigger symptoms of anxiety and depression to different degrees. In fact, this is so prevalent that there is a term for it: the “holiday blues”.
With the change in time, as many as a third of people who have experienced a major depressive disorder will experience worsening of their symptoms during the winter months. Getting out in the morning light and spending time outside can be a proactive step to prevent this exacerbation.
It is common during the holiday period for people to celebrate. Unfortunately, a certain percentage may drink too much. Alcoholism is also a disorder that commonly occurs with depression. Therefore, be cognizant of the amount you are drinking, and use ride share services instead of putting yourself at risk.
During the holidays, there is a tendency for all of us to eat too much, which can lead us to feel worse about our body image and ourselves, as well as contribute to chronic medical conditions. Therefore, before heading out to an event consume some health snack and drink lots of water. Make sure to keep your regular exercise schedule as well.
It is not uncommon for people to spend more time celebrating, meeting people and going out. One feels the pressure to reunite with as many loved ones as possible, potentially resulting in a jampacked schedule. Understand and know that it is ok to say “no” to invitations to social events or gatherings. By not doing so you may end up burning the candle at both ends. Unfortunately, decreased sleep is a major contributor to daytime fatigue, errors at work, and possibly even an increase in depressive symptoms.
Take steps to avoid the holiday blues
All the extra expenses can be very stressful. Set a budget early on and stick to it. We all know you can’t buy happiness but you can give it through homemade gifts and donations to charity in someone’s name. Some of the most cherished gifts I’ve received probably cost the giver next to nothing.
Unfortunately some of us lose family members during the holiday season and will be mourning. Personally for me and my family, 2002 was particularly difficult. We lost our grandfather and his sister, both within two weeks of Thanksgiving. This year will be difficult because we lost my paternal grandfather in July, and it will be the first year without him. Get support when mourning a loved one. Although it can be tempting to isolate yourself and grieve, it can be beneficial to spend time with your friends and family. They can support you through this difficult time.
With all of the above stressors it may be hard to distinguish between acceptable levels of “up and downs” versus depression. Remember the above are signs and symptoms of potential “holiday blues.” Depression is characterized more by common warning signs of:
–Not wanting to do thing you would normally to love to do
–You suddenly change friends or start isolating yourself
–You begin to have issues with work attendance or activities
–You begin to put yourself down, maybe even labeling yourself as a “failure”
Lastly during the holiday season, we will see movies that picture “the wonderful life,” exemplified by “perfect” families. My family is more like the Griswolds, and therefore, unrealistic expectations that one’s own family should meet these high standards can be quite depressing. Keep a sense of humor and use social media in moderation.
Remember, if you are experiencing any of the above no matter how lightly or intensely, please seek help. Help can always be found amongst friends and family, or your medical provider.