Holiday and Post Holiday “Blues”
By Dr. Stan Seidner
Okay, so I may be depressed today after these holidays. I may not have really wanted to visit someone…and, those expenses! I expected something. It didn’t happen. I may have turned to some bad habits that are bad for me…especially when I remembered something painful happened around this time. Jordana Mansbacher summarized a number of conditions that might bring about either holiday or post-holiday depression.Do any of these sound familiar?
“Finances – You may have noticed that our economic climate these days are not so great. There are many people out of work who were not in this position last year. You may have had to take a pay cut this past year, or even demoted or changed jobs that pay you less. More and more people are losing income and this causes one to feel sad that they cannot afford to give as much during the holiday season. You may even feel that you do not have enough money to make a complete holiday meal, or decorate your house the way you want because of the electricity bill associated with some decorations. These are real issues that can result in your feeling down, lethargic and not motivated to be in the celebratory mood.
Expectations – During the holidays we have expectations of what we hope to get from others or how we want to be recognized. You may be hoping for the annual Christmas Bonus at work, or a similar gift from a loved one or friend that you got last year. Chances are, as most people are suffering financially, this may not be the case for you this year and your expectations and hopes could be dashed. This will cause a post-holiday depression….
Relationships – If you are in a relationship you may be hoping for a wedding proposal, a gift to commemorate the amount of time you have been with your partner or some big display of grandiosity. You get yourself psyched up and tell yourself that your loved one will really prove themselves to you through gifts. If this does not occur, you will feel rejected, sad and disappointed. If you and your partner are having relationship difficulties, this time of year can exacerbate those problems because of the stress everyone is under and you may even feel that you or your partner is pulling away emotionally. This can also lead to depressive feelings and symptoms.
Substance Usage – Substances such as alcohol and marijuana are depressants. They cause physiological depression and emotional depression. During this time of year, people tend to “party” more and use more of these substances that contribute to feelings of sadness, lethargy, dehydration, sleep problems all leading to feeling ‘blue’.
Anniversary Reactions and Loss – If you have lost a loved one or friend in years past around the holidays, it is quite possible you will have an anniversary reaction. This means that you begin to remember your lost loved one and feel sad that they are not here to celebrate with you. You may even go so far as to not want to celebrate the holidays at all without this person alive, especially if you have lost someone very recently. The holidays can trigger many grief reactions such as depression, anger, hostility, regret and guilt. If you have not begun to process your grief yet, you will especially feel intense feelings during the holidays. If you have processed the loss, you still may feel a slight regression into grief and bereavement. This is normal, but if you do notice an extreme change in your emotional state or your ability to function, then you need to seek out professional help.” [i]
The holiday blues or holiday depression most commonly occur during the December holidays running from before Christmas to after New Year’s day. Mental Help America points out that there are many people who experience post-holiday let down or post-holiday blues after the first of January. Dyer notes: “According to the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Mental Health Center, holiday blues are feelings of sadness, loneliness, depression and even anxiety in and around the holiday season.[ii]
If left unaddressed, depression can lead to other serious outcomes. Various studies have indicated a range from actual deterioration in health, and death.[iii] In a historical cohort of over 7,000 subjects, a recent study at the Mayo clinic suggested that, “pessimistic, anxious, and depressive personality traits are associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality even when they are measured early in life. The findings are similar for men and women.”[iv] The staff at the Mayo clinic offers these practical tips:[v]
“Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Try these alternatives: Donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.
Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity.
Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Take a walk at night and stargaze. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.” [vi]
Finally, health and spiritual professionals are also subject to depression. We all learn something from the lessons life brings us. These include the holiday seasons. Here are some things that I have found helpful for myself:
- Experiencing depression does not make me weak or damaged. I find acknowledging and confronting it far more beneficial than denial.[vii]
- For me, spirituality becomes essential. There are many different forms of it. I use prayer, meditation and love…and seek the beauty and good in people, and in my environment.[viii]
- I maintain strong social contacts throughout, not just during holiday seasons. Where I cannot do so in quantity, I immerse myself in the quality.[ix]
- If injury prevents me from actually training at martial arts, I find that the exercises I am able to do, however limited, lift my spirit.[x]
- My focus fixes on positive happenings in my life. It enables me to express gratitude.[xi]
- I look for enough physical, mental and spiritual rest throughout the year. While I can’t get back lost rest, I seek restorative rest.[xii]
- For me, identifying worthwhile things to do is more important than seeking material gifts. This usually takes the form of time and efforts devoted to others in need.[xiii]
- Limiting overeating and overdrinking during the year…. That’s another one. Holiday binging can carry over. I focus on enjoying events without nervous eating and drinking.[xiv]
- I learned that the company of friends who are family and family who are friends are most important to me throughout the year. I do not have to seek their approval through extravagant gifts and cooking. Nor do I need to stress by trying to decorate or present the perfect house. We love and accept one another, warts and all.[xv]
- For any offenses toward others, I seek forgiveness. I try to recognize what they were and their impact upon others. Tomorrow I’ll try harder to do, and be better.[xvi]
Finally, I cannot stress enough to all my brothers and sisters on the mat, if you need help, seek it. Seeking help is not weakness. It is strength! Nor does seeking help mean that one has failed. On the contrary, it becomes the breakthrough toward success![xvii] The best of a good and bountiful year to you all!
[ii] Kirsti A. Dyer, “Coping with the Holiday Blues or Depression: Making it Through Christmas and New Year when Blue or Depressed,” Personal Development: Suite 101. http://kirsti-a-dyer.suite101.com/understanding-and-coping-with-the-holiday-blues-a86536#ixzz1itNYHBmK.
[iii]Saba Moussavi, et. al., “Depression, chronic diseases, and decrements in health: results from the World Health Surveys,” The Lancet, 370, no. 9590, (Sept.2007): 851–858; Lawson R. Wulsin, “Does Depression Kill?” Archives of Internal Medicine, 160, no. 12 (2000):1731-1732. Arnstein Mykletun, et. al., “Anxiety, Depression, and Cause-Specific Mortality: The HUNT Study,” Psychosomatic Medicine, 69, no. 4 (2007): 323-331; Richard Schulz, et. al., “Association Between Depression and Mortality in Older Adults: The Cardiovascular Health Study,” Archives of Internal Medicine, 160, no. 12, (2000): 1761-1768.
[iv] Brandon R. Grossardt, et. al., “Pessimistic, Anxious, and Depressive Personality Traits Predict All-Cause Mortality: The Mayo Clinic Cohort Study of Personality and Aging,” Psychosomatic Medicine, 71, no. 5 (2009): 491–500.
[vii] Ketterer and his colleagues found that denial of depression and unprovoked nocturnal awakening “appear to be independent correlates of coronary artery disease.” Mark W. Ketterer, et. al., “Denial of Depression as an Independent Correlate of Coronary Artery Disease,” Journal of Health Psychology, 1, no. 1 (1996): 93-105; see also; see also Mark W. Ketterer, et. al., “Men deny and women cry, but who dies? Do the wages of ‘denial’ include early ischemic coronary heart disease?” Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 56 (2004): 119– 123.
[viii] See Shannon Hodges, “Mental Health, Depression, and Dimensions of Spirituality and Religion,” Journal of Adult Development, 9, no. 2, (2002): 109-115; Caroline R. Ellermann, “Self-Transcendence and Depression in Middle-Age Adults,” Western Journal of Nursing Research, 23 no. 7 (2001): 698-713; A study by Young and his colleagues noted that preliminary support “was found for the moderating effect of spirituality among an adult population, particularly in providing protection against depression.” J. Scott Young, et. al., “The moderating relationship of spirituality on negative life events and psychological adjustment,” Counseling and Values, 45, (2000): 49-57.
[ix] See Sheldon Cohen, and Harry M. Hoberman, “Positive events and social supports as buffers of life change stress,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 13, no. 2, (1983): 99-125; Fran H. Norris, F., and Krzysztof Kaniasty, “Received and perceived social support in times of stress: A test of the social support deterioration deterrence model,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, no. 3, (1996): 498-511.
[x] In a longitudinal study, Harris and his associates found that more “physical activity was associated with less concurrent depression, even after controlling for gender, age, medical problems, and negative life events.” Alex H.S. Harris, et. al., “Physical activity, exercise coping, and depression in a 10-year cohort study of depressed patients,” Journal of Affective Disorders, 93, no. 1–3, (2006): 79–85; see also Terry C. Camacho, et. al. “Physical Activity and Depression: Evidence from the Alameda County Study,” American Journal of Epidemiology, 134, no. 2 (1991): 220-231.
[xi] A study on the effect of gratitude upon depression found that gratitude decreased (or prevented an increase) in reports of depressive symptoms. The practice of gratitude also enabled people to reframe otherwise negative experiences as potentially positive experiences. … Yet positive reframing was not the only mediator. We also predicted, and found, that gratitude increases (or prevents a decrease) in positive emotion, which, in turn, is related to fewer depressive symptoms.” Nathaniel M. Lambert, et. al., “Gratitude and depressive symptoms: The role of positive reframing and positive emotion,” Cognition and Emotion, (2011): 1-19; also Robert A. Emmons, and Michael E. McCullough, “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, no. 2, (2003): 377–389; Alex M. Wood, et. al., “Gratitude predicts psychological well-being above the Big Five facets,” Personality and Individual Differences, 46 (2009): 443–447.
[xii] For example, see Dieter Riemann, “Sleep and depression — results from psychobiological studies: an overview,” Biological Psychology, 57, no. 1–3, (2001): 67-103.
[xiii] See Stephen G. Post, “It’s good to be good: 2011 5th annual scientific report on health, happiness and helping others,” The International Journal of Person Centered Medicine, 1, no.4, (2011): 814-829; Stephanie L. Brown, et. al., “Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it: results from a prospective study of mortality,” Psychological Science, 14, no. 4, (2003): 320-7; Zipora Magen, “Commitment beyond self and adolescence: The issue of happiness,” Social Indicators Research 37, no. 3 (1996): 235-267; Carolyn E. Schwartz, and Meier Sendor, “Helping others helps oneself: Response shift effects in peer support,” Social Science and Medicine, 48, (1999): 1563-1575; Carolyn E. Schwartz, et. al., “Altruistic social interest behaviors are associated with better mental health,” Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, (2003): 778-785.
[xiv] Katon writes: “The adverse effect of major depression on health habits, such as smoking, diet, over-eating, and sedentary lifestyle, its maladaptive effect on adherence to medical regimens, as well as direct adverse physiologic effects (i.e., decreased heart rate variability, increased adhesiveness of platelets) may explain this association with increased morbidity and mortality..” Wayne J Katon, “Clinical and health services relationships between major depression, depressive symptoms, and general medical illness,” Biological Psychiatry, 54, no. 3, ( 2003): 216–22.
[xv] See Ryan E. Adams, et. al. “The presence of a best friend buffers the effects of negative experiences,” Developmental Psychology, 47, no. 6, (2011): 1786-1791; Jeffrey R. Edwards, and Cary L. Cooper, “The impacts of positive psychological states on physical health: Review and theoretical framework,” Social Science and Medicine 27, (1988): 1447-1459; Corey L. M. Keyes, “Promoting and protecting mental health as flourishing,” American Psychologist, 62, no. 2, (2007): 95-108. James H Fowler, and Nicholas A Christakis, “Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study,” British Medical Journal, 337, no. a2338, (2008): 1-9
[xvi]A study involving a national sample found that the act of having forgiven one’s self or others was negatively correlated with depression. Loren L. Toussaint, et. al., “Why forgiveness may protect against depression: Hopelessness as an explanatory mechanism,” Personality and Mental Health, 2, no 2, (2008): 89–103; also Thomas W. Baskin, and Robert D. Enright, “Intervention Studies on Forgiveness: A Meta-Analysis,” Journal of Counseling and Development, 82, no. 1 (2004): 79-90; Witvliet and her colleagues found that acts of forgiveness resulted in grater positive emotions, empathy, perceptions of self-control and joy, as well as less physiological stress. Conversely, remaining unforgiving resulted in negative emotions and greater stress. Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, et. al., “Granting forgiveness or harboring grudges: implications for emotion, physiology, and health,” Psychological Science, 12, no. 2, (2001):117-23.
[xvii] I found this a good read! Terrence Real, Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, New York, N.Y: Fireside, 1998. See also Toni Schofield, et al., “Understanding Men’s Health and Illness: A Gender-relations Approach to Policy, Research, and Practice,” Journal of American College Health, Volume 48, Issue 6, 2000, 247-256