When they’re more than just holiday “blues”

As we approach the holiday season, I find myself a little melancholy. This will be the first time in several holiday seasons we won’t be able to spend either Thanksgiving or Christmas with one or both of our children. We will be together with other family members for the holidays, and the kids will have their own special celebrations clear across the country; but it still makes me a little sad to miss that time with our own children.

The holidays – with all of its sparkling lights, incredible food, wonderful gifts and festive parties – can be a little sad for many. For some it can be extremely sad.

The holiday season, says Renee Rogers, licensed marriage and family therapist with Banner Health’s behavioral health team in Colorado, can come with unrealistic expectations. Some people will get down on themselves for not being able keep up with all the festivities, get the shopping done, bake all those goodies, or decorate the tree just right. Many women, she says, will push to “do it all” and will have little or no “down time” to relax, re-energize or enjoy the moment.

Compounding the holiday season dilemma? Being alone.

“It can really exaggerate the feelings of sadness for those who don’t have anyone to spend the holidays with,” Renee says.

That’s why it’s so important, she says, to look to others for companionship during this time of year. It may be through the workplace, your neighborhood, community organizations, church activities or other opportunities for positive interaction.

And, if you know someone who has no one to be with, consider inviting him or her to be a part of your holiday festivities.

“Finding positive people to be with, versus isolating yourself, is really important,” Renee explains.

Other tips to consider this time of year:

  • Set realistic expectations for yourself and your time, Renee urges. It is OK to do less so you can enjoy more.
  • Focus on gratitude. “Be aware of all the things to be thankful for. The truth is, for every one negative problem you have, there may be 50 positives. It’s important to shift your focus from the negative to the positive. As I tell my clients, ‘Stop the stinkin’ thinkin’.”

Of course, for many, that can be challenging. Their sadness may be more than a case of “the blues,” and they may struggle mightily with remaining positive.

The “blues,” Renee explains, are temporary and short-lived. “They’re situational, such as being sad about losing a job opportunity.” Or, in my case, not being able to see my kids this holiday season. That sadness subsides within a short period of time, and the person is able to move on.

Depression, however, lasts for a prolonged period of time and can make it extremely difficult for people suffering from it to move on without seeking treatment.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Depression is a common but serious illness.” It doesn’t go away quickly and it interferes with daily life, while causing pain for those with depression and those in their lives.

Each year, says the NIMH, nearly seven percent of adults in the United States experience major depression.

Women, the NIMH estimates, are 70 percent more likely than men to experience depression during their lifetime.

What are some of the signs? According to the NIMH, symptoms may include:

  • Prolonged sadness, anxiety or pessimism
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless or worthless
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Fatigue, loss of energy
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Sudden gain or loss in weight
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts

Unfortunately, many of those experiencing depression will not seek treatment, says the NIMH, though most – even with the most serious depression – can benefit from it.

“People who experience depression need to able to talk to someone,” Renee says. “It may not be a therapist. But they need to be able to connect with healthy, positive people and avoid isolation.”

If their depression persists, however, Renee stresses the importance of seeking professional counseling and, if necessary, more intense therapy and/or evaluation for medication.

As the NIMH points out, “It may be extremely difficult to take any action to help yourself. But as you begin to recognize your depression and begin treatment, you will start to feel better.”

That’s an important message during the holiday season … and every other time of the year.

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