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Don't Let 'Holiday Blues' Depress Your Yuletide

The holiday season is a festive time to share gifts and laughter with co-workers, friends and family. It can also be a time of depression.


​​Ironic as it seems, for many people the holidays bring on feelings of isolation, sadness and anxiety. Behavioral health specialists have given this seasonal psychological condition a name - "holiday blues."

"The reasons for feeling blue around the holidays are numerous. They range from fatigue - a result of increased holiday activity - to financial burdens and family tensions," says Patrick Carter, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.F.P., Chief of Family Medicine at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic..

Unrealistic expectations

One of the fastest routes to holiday depression is unrealistic expectations. People often hold on to what they remember as an "ideal" holiday from years gone by and are sad when they are unable to reproduce it. There are also expectations around the holidays that "everything must be perfect," and perfection is seldom obtainable.

To reduce heightened expectations, people should try to be honest with themselves about what they can - and cannot - do during the season.

Set realistic goals

If your holiday plans require you to run around shopping and going to parties until you are exhausted, and then staying up late to wrap presents, your plans aren't realistic. You need to pace yourself and get enough rest so that you won't be rundown.

Other factors that may dampen your feelings this season:

  • Money issues. Let's face it: You may not have enough disposable income to give everyone on your list a gift.
    Try this: Don't run up credit card debt you'll have trouble facing in February. Consider cutting your gift list to the bare minimum and setting a realistic cap on how much you'll spend - and stick to it. Family members will understand. They'll be doing it, too.
  • Memories of a deceased loved one. This can be especially saddening if these are the first holidays without your special someone.
    Try this: Remind yourself that dying is a natural part of life. Make an effort to spend time with friends and family who understand and share your loss.
  • Strained family dynamics. In today's world with high divorce rates and fragmented families, stress is commonly experienced as family members quarrel over sharing holiday time with the children following a divorce.
    Try this: Create new family traditions with new memories. These don't have to be expensive or elaborate. For instance, if it's your turn to be with your kids, consider doing something you haven't done before like building a tent with furniture, quilts and blankets and "camping out" under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve night.

How to cope

Here are Dr. Carter's suggestions for counteracting those blue moods should they come down your chimney this season:

  • Don't get overwhelmed. Don't let the pressures from shopping, coordinating social functions, negotiating family issues and missing lost loved ones get you down.
  • Delegate. Don't try to do it all by yourself. By breaking down tasks and doling them out to friends and family, tasks become more manageable.
  • Spend some time alone. Some people love the energy and exuberance of holiday parties and activities. For others, it's very draining. If you find yourself getting a little anxious, take a breather. Relax and recharge your batteries.
  • Let go of the past. Don't be disappointed if your holidays aren't like they used to be. Life brings changes. Don't dwell on the "good old days." Embrace the present as well as the future. Chances are, you've got some "good old days" that are still in the making - don't miss them by constantly looking back.
  • Don't drink too much alcohol. It's easy to overindulge around the holidays, but excessive drinking will make you feel more depressed. And remember: Driving under the influence is dangerous and against the law!
  • Give yourself a break. You aren't the best cook or the cleverest gift giver. You aren't Supermom or Superdad. But guess what - nobody else is either.
  • Don't feel strange about seeking professional counseling. If, despite your best efforts to remain upbeat, you find yourself feeling blue for a sustained period of time, get professional counseling. True clinical depression is serious. There are treatment options that could make a significant difference in your outlook.
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Patrick Carter, MD, MBA, FAAFP

​​I try to have an open, friendly relationship with my patients so that they can feel comfortable asking and telling me anything. I enjoy seeing patients over long periods of time, because I feel a long-term doctor-patient relationship is the best way to give and receive medical care. I also like to laugh and have fun with my patients; I think it often does more good than medications.