The holiday season can be filled with joy…or not.  The season is full of goodwill and optimistic hope for the coming year.  When we find ourselves doubting brotherly love or having negative thoughts about the coming year, we may feel out of step with those around us.

All of this togetherness can be great…or not.  We attend all kinds of celebrations that include family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, or those within our congregations.  Some of us are happier enjoying the season with just our spouse, or children, or a few close friends.

It is not unusual to feel blue, lonely, or stressed from time to time during this season.  Families and friends getting together can bring back memories of our loved ones that have passed away, require last minute preparations, remind us of relationships that need mending, and thoughts of the days of yore.

Some simple ways to avoid the blues during the holidays are recommended by Jefferson Center for Mental Health:

  • Keep your normal routine. This includes getting enough sleep and exercise, eating at regular times in normal amounts, continuing with everyday activities and appointments, taking medications, and not drinking too much.
  • Spend time with people who are supportive and care about you.  Remember you are not alone…call or visit a friend.
  • Keep expectations manageable…don’t try to make this the “best holiday ever”.  Be realistic about what you can and cannot do.  Pace yourself, organize your time.  Make a list and prioritize activities.  Limit your holiday spending.
  • Take time for yourself – nurture your spirit.
  • Keep things simple.
  • Do something for someone else.  Let others know you care.
  • Enjoy the outdoors.
  • Do activities you enjoy.

What if the blues feel more like depression?  Then you may be experiencing the “holiday blues” which can mimic depression if during this season.  You may find yourself sleeping more or less than usual, more than normal weight gain or loss, being agitated or anxious, feeling excessive or inappropriate guilt, less than normal ability to think clearly or having decreased pleasure in things you usually enjoy.  This may be intense and upsetting for you.  Some causes for the holiday blues can be fatigue, stress, interruption of normal routines, not being with your family, and lack of emphasis on the meaning of the holidays.  However, the good news is they may only last a few days.  In some cases, the holiday blues may be with you for a couple of weeks prior to or after the holidays.

Suggested on the NAMI website are the following as do’s and don’ts to manage holiday blues:

  • Do let go of the past and create new or different ways to celebrate.
  • Do allow yourself to feel sad or lonely – these are normal feelings.
  • Do enjoy activities that are free.
  • Do focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have.
  • Do spend time with people who care about you.
  • Don’t have unrealistic expectations of yourself or others.
  • Finally, you have people around you to listen.  Find someone to talk with about what you are thinking and feeling – a family member, a friend, or someone in your faith community.

Unlike the holiday blues or normal emotional ups and down, major depression is a serious medical illness that affects as many as 5 – 10% of seniors.  If your depression is persistent for more than two weeks and significantly interferes with your thoughts, behavior, mood, activity, and/or physical health, seek professional help from a health or mental health professional today.  If you are uncomfortable doing this, ask a trusted family member or friend to help you make the call and accompany you to an appointment.

The old saying “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” is certainly true when we think about the holiday blues.  Please follow the recommendations above from Jefferson Center to avoid the holiday blues and keep the “happy” in Happy Holidays.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!