NEWARK—While holiday songs focus on “chesnuts roasting on an open fire,” and other joys of the season, many people experience feelings of isolation and depression during the holidays. In fact, numerous studies confirm that there is an increase in both the numbers and severity of calls by depressed individuals to crisis hotlines during this time.
“Many people have difficulty living up to the unreal expectations of the perfect holiday as portrayed in movies and magazines,” says Tess Medina, RN, C, BSN, MAS, Administrative Director of the Behavioral Health Department at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. “Family misunderstandings and conflicts can intensify — especially if you are together for several days. The holidays bring about unrealistic conceptualizations of the ideal family, and may heighten the tension between family members.”
The holiday season may also be a time of reflection as the year ends. Medina relates that people look back and see the losses they have incurred, the loss of a loved one through death, divorce or separation, or the loss of a job. Facing the holidays without a loved one or an income can be difficult. An additional stressor is holiday spending and socializing.
“Over eating, over drinking and over spending, combined with a decreased amount of sleep, are a formula for depression and mood swings,” says Medina. “Overspending now can also mean financial worries for months to come.”
The following are suggestions from the Behavioral Health Department at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center for putting some sanity back into your holidays:
• Acknowledge your feelings. You cannot force yourself to be happy just because it is the holiday season.
• Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events.
• Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect. 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.
• Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion.
• Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend.
• Learn to say no. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity.
• Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.
• Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Even spending 15 minutes alone without distractions can refresh you.
• Seek professional help if you need it. If feelings of sadness or anxiety, sleeplessness or irritability, or hopelessness persist, talk to your physician or a mental health professional.
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