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Blue Christmas - Four Ways to Beat the Holiday Blues

by on December 23, 2013 8:00 AM

If the holidays have you down this year, you're not alone.

During the Christmas season, the "happiest time of the year," it's not uncommon for folks to feel down.

In part, the holiday blues can be attributed to what's known as seasonal affective disorder, according to Candace Maurer, a certified registered nurse practitioner with Mount Nittany Health.

Medical experts see seasonal effective disorder between the end of fall through winter, particularly in the northeast, as days get shorter, cloudier and colder; a person's body adjusts to the time change; and people absorb less sunlight.

"Those very simple things in and of itself can cause people to start feeling down" Maurer said. "It's dark when we get up and go to work and it's dark when we come home from work, it's cloudy and cold during the day ... and that certainly for any age can make us all feel blue."

During the holidays, many other factors can add to the depression, such as the recent loss of a loved one, a recent divorce or separation, or a move to a new town or state.

Additionally, being alone during the holiday season, fear of tension among relatives at family gatherings, financial burdens, and expectations for perfect decorations and perfect meals can all add to the problem, Maurer said.

How do you know if you or a loved one is suffering from holiday blues? Here are some signs to look for:

  • Not having energy for things like putting up Christmas decorations
  • Withdrawing from social events at church or with family
  • Crying easily
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sense of hopelessness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Generally not feeling well

If you or a loved one are suffering from the holiday blues, here are ways to overcome it:

1. Lower Your Expectations

During the holiday season, it's not uncommon to have high expectations whether it is how the house is decorated, how the family dinner turns out, or the desire for a holiday gathering without family tension.

When such high expectations are not met it can add to stress and feelings of depression.

"We need to sit ourselves down and try to be more realistic of what our expectations are going to be," Maurer says. "We lose sight of what's most important ... making sure the house is perfect, the food is perfect. Lower your expectations, don't lose sight of what's important."

2. Stay Busy

This is helpful particularly for those who are alone during the holiday season, due to the loss of a spouse, divorce or move.

First, it is important for such people to recognize they are grieving.

"Recognize it will be hard, but you will get through it," Maurer says.

Second, reach out to a support system of friends and family.

And finally, find different ways to keep yourself busy, such as volunteering at a community center, senior center or food bank.

"These might be ways that they could give of themselves and have some contact with other people so that for a period of time they're not necessarily thinking about their grief," Maurer says.

For those who aren't grieving, there may be a neighbor who recently lost a spouse or an elderly friend who lives alone. It's important to reach out to those folks during this time of year.

"You could make up gift baskets for them and reach out to them, visit them, bring them to your home on Christmas day. Reach out to other people," Maurer suggests.

3. Set a Budget

Finances during the holiday season can increase stress levels that last beyond Christmas. It's important to create a budget and stick to it.

"That way you don't have sticker shock after Christmas is over," Maurer says.

4. Seek Help

If your depression is persistent or worsens, you should discuss it with your doctor.

"If you really struggle with depression, see your primary doctor," Maurer recommends.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government. jenn.miller@statecollege.com
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