“’Tis the season to be jolly” — for most. But for some, the holidays that are supposed to be heartwarming can spur heart-wrenching experiences or memories.
Financial stress, lack of company and support, loss of a loved one, or another traumatic event can turn a season of bliss into one of loneliness and despair, according to Dr. Ronald Brenner, chief of behavioral health for Catholic Health Services and director of psychiatry at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre.
“Holiday-induced depression or holiday blues can affect people of all ages,” says Brenner. “The holidays can act as a catalyst for depression.”
Shopping on a strict budget, pressure to be a perfect holiday host, and holding a game face when struggling with grief all produce anxiety, he says. This can lead to sleep deprivation, excessive drinking, overeating and ultimately, depression.
The good news? Holiday blues are usually short-lived, says Brenner, with a few practical strategies.
Know that this too shall pass. “The hallmark of holiday depression is that it goes away a day or two after the holidays are over,” says Brenner. “Major depressive disorder or clinical depression usually lasts much longer.” See the light at the end of the tunnel.
Seek support. Realizing that others experience similar despondence can give perspective and ease sad feelings. As the holidays can be a painful reminder of a lost loved one, seeking comfort with trusted friends and family is important, says Brenner. Local bereavement support groups may also help, offering strength and unexpected joy.
Reminisce. Nostalgia is normal this time of year. Remembering and missing loved ones who have passed, realizing how fast time has gone by… but it doesn’t have to be all gloom and doom. Sharing treasured memories with others may improve one’s mood. Old photos or videos might bring on a tear or two, but also maybe a smile.
Create new memories. Starting new holiday traditions may give you something to look forward to. It can be reading a special book to your children each year, a night on the town with a friend or partner, or hitting the slopes at a ski resort you’ve never visited.
Plan ahead. Practice healthy habits to reduce stress, keep a to-do list and try not to overbook. Eliminate unnecessary work. Set realistic expectations. Make time to exercise and get enough sleep. Limit alcohol consumption and avoid unhealthy snacks and meals. Be kind to yourself.
Take it day by day. Sometimes, not following a rigid holiday routine can extinguish pressure to “have the perfect Christmas,” says East Northport resident Denise Schwartz. She lost her husband three years ago when their children were 6 months, 6 and 9. She makes each holiday “about the kids,” setting little to no expectations, with less pressure on herself.
“I make things very laid back and try to do different things so I don’t feel caught in a rut,” she says. “We make cookies on Christmas Eve but I don’t do a lot of cooking. I put all my energy into making the kids happy.”
Pay attention to the good. Because it’s there. Yes, the holiday season can be stressful. It can remind us of who and what we don’t have and that can indeed be painful. But if you open your eyes and your heart enough to see past that — people caring more and being overly generous and kind; beautiful white snow showers and snowmen; festive lights and music — you might beat the holiday blues and discover and enjoy the magic of the holiday season.
Depression and Bereavement Support
Mercy Medical Center
1000 North Village Ave., Rockville Centre. mercymedicalcenter.chsli.org
Crisis Service: 516-705-2248. Outpatient Clinic: 516-705-3400.
Nassau County Psychological Association
60 Hollywood Ave., Massapequa. nassaupsych.org 516-377-1010
Suffolk County Psychological Association
P.O. Box 397, Commack. suffolkpsych.org 631-423-2409
P.O. Box 1251, Melville. copefoundation.org 516-832-2673.