WESTFIELD – Silent night and all is calm – just not in your home. The world is sleeping all around you – yet you lie awake worrying.
“This is a season meant to celebrate yet many people feel, ‘I don’t have anyone in my life,’” said Jane Berlant, a volunteer listener at CONTACT We Care, a crisis listening line. “’I’m so alone. Look at all the commercials that imply I’m supposed to be happy and I’m not.’”
The holiday season brings happiness and fulfillment to many. Yet for others the holidays are a period of increased stress and depression, brought on by pressure, loneliness or hype.
The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that eight in 10 Americans feel heightened stress during the holiday season. The APA cites time constraints, money, family responsibilities and gift-giving as contributing factors to stress, with results including sadness and a lack of sleep and energy. In addition, approximately one in 10 Americans takes medication for depression (one in 25 adolescents) and then faces the added stress of the holiday season.
“Depression is something people live with throughout the year and the holidays come and they feel pressure to be happy,” Berlant said. “They feel the momentum of the holidays – demands of friends and family, shopping, spending money and going to parties. But still they feel very much alone.”
To help, CONTACT We Care adds additional coverage for its hotline (908-232-2880) during the holiday season, according to Joanne Oppelt, executive director. The nonprofit relies on more than 100 volunteer listeners who handle more than 11,000 calls annually from Union, Middlesex, Essex, Morris and Somerset counties.
Callers vary from teens experiencing social pressure to the unemployed and the elderly feeling disconnected from adult children, and from daily callers relying on the agency to help them get through their day to first-time callers with suicidal thoughts, according to Oppelt. Volunteers are trained to listen, empathize and guide.
“We listen to our callers and sometimes we can help them realize they’re giving us the information to help them work through their problems,” Berlant said. “A lot of times they have the keys to solving their problems but just don’t see it.”
According to CONTACT We Care and other experts, keys to avoiding stress and depression during the holidays that are within someone’s control include:
- Have Realistic Expectations – Not everything is going to be perfect so do not expect it to be.
- Set Realistic Budgets – Spend only what you can afford.
- Set Aside Time for Yourself – Read, exercise, do something you enjoy.
- Say No – Do not accept every invitation or go to every function.
- Be With People – Surround yourself with loved ones or, if you are alone, join a club or volunteer at a charity.
- Eat Right – Minimize the sweets, take reasonable portions and drink no more than usual.
- Seek Direction – Do not feel compelled to surprise everyone with their gift – ask them what they want.
- Accept Help – If hosting a party or gathering, let others help.
- Keep Decorating Simple – Perhaps deck just one hall rather than all of them.
“Most importantly, if you are feeling stressed or depressed, talk to someone,” Oppelt said. “If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a family member or friend, or if you are alone, call us. That’s why we’re here and we can help.”
CONTACT We Care’s anonymous and confidential hotline is 1-908-232-2880. To find out about becoming a volunteer listener, call 1-908-301-1899.
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