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December 19, 2007 > Don't Feel Festive This Holiday Season?

Don't Feel Festive This Holiday Season?

Physician Offers Practical Tips for Coping with Holiday Depression

'Tis the season to be jolly, but for many it's a time to be blue. Holiday depression is a common problem and it's really no surprise. We spend precious time, energy and money trying to achieve a greeting-card perfect holiday.
But we aren't perfect - and neither are our friends and families.
"Holiday depression is often a result of exaggerated expectations. We expect it to be a "Hallmark" moment and it's not," says Dr. Lester Love, Washington Township Medical Group family practice physician. "People often have more contact with family members during the holidays, and that might not be a good thing. There's also the misperception that everyone else is happy and joyous, and you're the only one who is not."
The holidays can also trigger a serious bout of depression in those who struggle with it all year long. Love encourages anyone who has clinical depression or is suffering from more than just the "holiday blues" to seek professional help.
"But if you just have a tendency to feel down during the holidays, there are some practical steps you can take to minimize the down times," Love says.
Set reasonable expectations. Forget about perfection and make sure your vision of the holidays is a realistic one. For example, if you don't get along with certain family members the rest of the year, be realistic about how much time you can spend together over the holidays. Understand the day might not be without conflict if you do get together, so be prepared. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all your expectations.
Stick to a budget. Part of being realistic is staying within your budget. You can't buy the perfect holiday, but you can get yourself into debt, which will be depressing long after the holidays are over. Decide what you can spend and stick to it.
Be flexible. As families and friendships change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Children grow up, move away, and have children of their own. Friends also move away and change the patterns of their lives. So be willing to establish new traditions and new ways of celebrating.
Avoid toxic situations. If a relationship is too painful, you should avoid it altogether. Sometimes during the holidays we feel compelled to contact people we haven't seen in a long time. Before acting on that impulse, first consider if it really is in your best interest.
Don't abandon healthy habits. Don't use the holidays as an excuse to eat and drink excessively. Some indulgence is fine, but overindulgence leads to feelings of guilt and ultimately depression. Keeping a regular schedule of sleep and exercise also helps improve your mood.
Get support. If you feel isolated or lonely, you don't have to go it alone. Find a support network, whether it's family or friends, or an established support group, social service or religious group.
Remember the reason for the season. Whatever your beliefs, don't forget the true spirit of the holidays - love and hope. Be grateful for what you have and concentrate on what is going well in your life. Forget about expensive gifts and fancy decorations and focus on what is really important.
"The biggest piece of advice I can give this holiday season is to set boundaries, which includes who you are willing to see, how much money you are willing to spend, and how much you are willing to do," Dr. Love says. "And remember, this will pass. There will be a January 1 and a January 2. The holidays are a moment in life, not your whole life."
For information about Washington Hospital and its programs and services, visit www.whhs.com.

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