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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Is it Depression or the Holiday Blues?

The holiday season is upon us once again. For many people, this is a time of joy and celebration with loved ones that they look forward to eagerly. But for many others this is a sad and stressful time where they suffer with the Holiday Blues. Sometimes, it's hard to distinguish between the Holiday Blues and depression. However, whereas the Holiday Blues usually pass when the holidays are over, depression is longer lasting and has certain symptoms that are unique compared to the Holiday Blues.

Is it Depression or the Holiday Blues?
Symptoms of Depression
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), if you suffer from five or more of the following symptoms for two or more weeks, you should seek the help of a licensed mental health professional:
  • Persistent sad or anxious mood
  • Overall feelngs of pessimism and hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and helplessness
  • Loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed, including sex
  • Difficulty with memory, concentration or decisionmaking
  • Insomnia (either falling or staying asleep)
  • Change in appetite (either overeating or undereating)
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not go away when medical reasons have been ruled out (headaches, digestive problems, or other aches and pains)
Coping with the Holiday Blues
Is it Depression or the Holiday Blues?
As previously mentioned, whereas depression is a serious mental health problem, the Holiday Blues are usually transient and people are often able to cope if they follow a few of the following recommendations:

Maintain Your Perspective
The holiday season can be a time when you feel exhausted, sad and anxious from too much shopping, overspending, overeating. socializing, not getting enough rest, and the pressure to meet your own as well as others' expectations.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, try to maintain your perspective about what is meaningful about the holidays. Is it really about the gifts or is there a deeper meaning for you and your family?

It's often valuable to look at how various cultures address issues of overindulgence. In Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, the Yamas are the first of the eight limbs of yoga that represent ethical guidelines for living one's life, similar to the Golden Rule ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"). One of the Yamas is called Aparigrapha, which is usually translated to mean: non-possessiveness, non-holding through the senses, non-grasping, non-indulgence, non-acquisitiveness, and non-covetousness (see Yoga Journal: for more information about the Yoga Sutra).

The Wisdom of the Yoga Sutra
You don't have to be a yogi to benefit from this philosophy. During this time to year, it's a good time to take stock, even if you're not religious or particularly spiritual, with regard to what the holidays mean to you, rather than getting caught up in the commercialism, greed and overindulgence that, unfortunately, have become a part of the holiday season.

Stay Focused on the Present
Comparing your current experience of the holidays to your experiences from years gone by can be a recipe for disaster, whether you had pleasant or unpleasant experiences in the past.

If you had wonderful holidays as a child and your current holidays don't quite measure up, you might find yourself pining for those former times. If you become so focused on the past, you might miss precious moments of joy that are occurring now. A moment of joy can be as simple as watching the sense of wonder on a child's face as she experiences the joy of the holidays. Similarly, if your holidays as a child were a disaster, you might close yourself off to what could be meaningful times with family and friends now because you have negative expectations.

Keeping a mindful awareness of the here-and-now can be a good antedote to ruminating about the past of fantasizing about the future.

Avoid Controversial Topics at Family Gatherings
This is not the time to debate contentious political issues or rehash old resentments just because you and your family are all together in the same place. Stay focused on the deeper meaning of the holidays. If family members attempt to discuss controversial topics, suggest keeping this time as pleasant as possible. You can get together at another time to talk about these topics.

You might also need to gauge how much time you spend with family members as part of your own self care. A reasonably pleasant couple of hours is better than a day of bickering.

Also, you want to ensure that your expectations about your family are reasonable. If you know there are certain ongoing family issues or dysfunctional dynamics in your family, don't expect that they will suddenly become the ideal famly portrayed in the movies or TV. Just because it's the holidays doesn't mean that you and your family will overcome whatever ongoing problems that may exist.

Take Care of Yourself

Practice Self Care
When you're tired and run down, you are more likely to get sick. During the holidays, you need to take even better care of yourself than you would normally. This means getting a good night's sleep, eating nutrious meals, and getting emotional support if you need it.


Volunteering Can Be a Good Way to Create the Holiday Spirit For Yourself and Others
If you're not spending time with family and friends during the holidays, volunteering can be a good way to create the holiday spirit for yourself and others who might be less fortunate than you. There are so many volunteer organizations that would be grateful for your help. If you're not sure which volunteer organizations are in your area, you can consult with the local churches, synagogues, mosques, charitable organizations in your area as well as your municipality for a list of volunteer organizations.

If you're not sure if what you're feeling is the Holiday Blues or depression, you might benefit from consulting with a licensed psychotherapist.

I am a NYC licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and EMDR therapist.

To find out more about me, visit my web site: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, please call me at (212) 726-1006.

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