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September 26, 2016

Taking care of the holiday blues

September 26, 2016

For immediate release: Dec. 22, 2015

For many people – women more than men – the season of “chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at your nose” is more a cause for alarm than joy.

A major study several years ago by the American Psychological Association found that women (44 percent) are more likely than men (31 percent) to report an increase of stress during the holiday season. The primary causes of stress were lack of time, lack of money, and pressure to give or get gifts.

Stress and our health

Stress definitely has an effect on both physical and behavioral health. The APA survey showed that adults who experienced a lot of stress rated their psychological and physical health lower than adults who did not. Women under stress were more likely than men to report their health as fair or poor. Both men and women reported a number of specific ailments and symptoms such as feeling nervous or sad, fatigue and sleep problems, lack of interest or motivation, headache and upset stomach, changes in appetite and others.

It’s easy for women to become overwhelmed during the holiday season, partly because all the “extras” of the holidays – cards, parties, gift shopping and wrapping – pile on to the everyday responsibilities of laundry, dinner and help with homework. Often adding to these stressors are reunions among once-a-year family members, complete with their complexities and emotional baggage.

Finally, the holidays often remind us of who is not sitting at the table this year and this can trigger everything from sadness for your loss to thoughts of your own mortality. While Nat King Cole is crooning “everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe help to make the season bright,” it often doesn’t seem so bright.

Seasonal blues or clinical depression?

While not everyone who experiences stress during the holidays also gets the holiday blues the two are clearly linked, though they should not be confused with either clinical depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Clinical depression is a behavioral health issue that may require medication, while the holiday blues might be relieved by getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods or just talking to a good friend. SAD is a diagnosable problem linked to fewer hours of sunlight during the winter and, while people with the holiday blues also can also have SAD, they are not directly related. Both clinical depression and SAD are diagnosed more frequently in women.

To add insult to injury, holiday blues sometimes don’t end when the holiday does. It’s common to feel a post-holiday letdown. Holidays can leave you feeling physically and emotionally drained. You also may experience a sense of loss or frustration that can turn into the blues.

Going back to work after the holidays can cause anxiety, a lack of motivation to get down to work and other symptoms of the blues. Studies have shown that utilization of psychiatric emergency services and hospitalizations – for the blues and beyond – tend not to go up during the holidays but do so once they are over.

We all can lighten our holiday loads – physical and emotional – by considering the following common-sense tips.

• Set realistic expectations. Nobody’s holiday is perfect. Yours needn’t be, either. This goes for everything from the perfect holiday dinner table to the budget-busting toys you’d like to buy for your children but can’t afford. Plus, trying to be Superwoman and “do it all” will likely lead to frustration at best and a feeling of failure at worst.

• Stick to a healthy routine as much as possible. This includes eating right, drinking responsibly, and getting enough exercise and sleep.

• Manage your time and take care of yourself. This could involve turning down a party invitation or two or making only three kinds of cookies instead of 10. It should involve carving out a bit of “me time,” even if it’s just a few long soaks in the tub with a good book.

• Table family differences. The holidays aren’t the best time to confront your brother-in-law about the remark he made last year or criticize your grown child’s choice of partner. And have some empathy for family members – they are probably feeling the same stresses and blues that you are.

• Reach out if you’re feeling lonely. Even those with big families can feel alone during the holidays. To combat isolation, try finding a like-minded friend and go to a concert or movie. Or volunteer, which has two benefits – it broadens your contacts and enables you to do something for those who need help.

• Acknowledge your feelings about this holiday season. There are many reasons why you might not be happy this year – you may have lost a close friend or family member, you may be battling serious health issues, or you can’t be with loved ones. Don’t allow the holidays to get in the way of a good cry or a conversation to express your feelings. In fact, it’s probably better to do so.

The holidays needn’t be a time of foreboding and dread. With some planning and self-awareness you can recognize your holiday blues hot buttons, take steps to corral them, and enjoy a peaceful and joyous holiday season.

Read additional tips here: http://cooley-dickinson.staywellsolutionsonline.com/Search/1,2094

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