Holiday Stress and Depression

  • Published
  • By Ms. Jill Garvin
  • Director of Psychological Health, 102nd Intelligence Wing
The stress of the holidays triggers sadness and depression for many people. This time of year is especially difficult because there's an expectation of feeling merry and generous. People compare their emotions to what they assume others are experiencing or what they're supposed to feel. Then they think that they alone fall short. They judge themselves and feel like an outsider. Many of you have experienced recent losses and this may be your first holiday without your loved one. Holidays are really never the same. There're a host of things that add to stress and difficult emotions during the holidays so I encourage you to be mindful of the following.

 Finances - Not enough money or the fear of not having enough to buy gifts leads to sadness and guilt. The stress of financial hardship during this economic downturn is often compounded by shame. When you can't afford to celebrate, it can feel devastating. Many of you do not know what your future financial situation is going to look like with the wing and mission changes.

 Stress. There is the stress of shopping and planning family dinners when you're already overworked and tired.

 Loneliness. Around 43 percent of Americans are single, and 27 percent of Americans live alone. When others are with their families, it can be very painful for those who are alone. We can also feel lonely in relationships when there is not a sense of connectiveness with our partners. That's why it's so important to have a good support system of at least 7, which is the magical number is regards to support system networks.

 Grief. There have been so many losses for many of you. It's okay to not feel "joy" or the holiday spirit without your loved one. Think of doing something this holiday to remember or honor your loved one. Reach out to others experiencing loss. Don't feel guilty for just not "feeling it" over the holidays!
Divorce/Break up. If you're newly divorced or a relationship has ended, the holidays may remind you of happier times and accentuate your grief and sense of isolation.

 SAD. Many people experience the blues during gloomy weather due to decreased sunlight, called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I have suggestions to help with this, such as "therapy lamps." Studies show that light therapy helps reduce the debilitating and depressive behaviors of SAD, such as excessive sleepiness and fatigue. Light therapy is preferred over antidepressants in the treatment of SAD because it is a relatively safe and easy therapy

Some measures you can take to cope with the holiday blues include:

 Make plans in advance, so you know how and with whom your holidays will be spent. Uncertainty and putting off decision-making add enormous stress.

 Ask for help from your family, children and support system.

 Don't buy things you can't afford. Shame prevents people from being open about gift-giving when they can't afford it. Instead of struggling to buy a gift, let your loved ones know how much you care and would like to, but can't afford it. That intimate moment will relieve your stress and nourish you both. Consider home-made gifts!

 Don't allow perfectionism to wear you down. Remember it's being together and goodwill that matters.

 Make time to rest and rejuvenate even amidst the pressure of getting things done. This will give you more energy. Even if you cannot take a nap or sleep, resting your body for 20 minutes can help rejuvenate the body.

 Spend time alone to reflect and grieve, if necessary. Pushing down feelings leads to depression. Let yourself feel and try not to judge whatever feelings arise. Try to make a plan to do something nice for yourself. Nurture your grief instead of fighting it.

 Don't isolate. Reach out to others who also may be lonely. If you don't have someone to be with, volunteer to help those in need. It can be very uplifting and gratifying. It is a spiritual truism that when we reach out to others, we get out of ourselves and feel more connected.

Be mindful of the signs of depression which are feelings of sadness, worthlessness or guilt, crying, loss of interest in usual activities, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, social withdrawal, and changes in sleep, weight, or appetite. If these symptoms are severe or continue for a few weeks, more than the holidays may be the cause. Please see me or the Chaplain so we can help give you the support and encouragement you deserve!