The Holiday Blues

Contrary to popular belief, suicides do not increase during the winter holidays. But that doesn’t mean that holiday depression or sadness is not real for some people.

In the Dana Foundation’s new briefing paper, “Holiday Blues: Getting the Facts, Forgetting the Myth,” mental health experts and Dana Alliance members Myrna Weissman and Eric Nestler discuss what factors may contribute to these “holiday blues.”

Because of the emphasis on family during this time of year, missing loved ones who have died or are far away can cause depression.

“Holidays can be a time when the things that trigger depression–grief, disputes, transitions–are in abundance,” Weissman says.

“Loved ones may have died or aren’t able to be nearby, so a person is alone and grieving. Disputes can arise that may be suppressed during the rest of the year because people aren’t seeing one another or don’t have the same expectations as they might have around the holidays. Transitions–all of the normal and abnormal kinds of changes in one’s life, such as children leaving home, moving–these things can make it more difficult to see loved ones or experience the same interactions.”

Nestler adds that problematic family dynamics can also lead to stress, which can trigger depression.

“I would view holiday stress like any other type of psychological or emotional stress,” [Nestler] says. “Holidays are stressful for people for whom seeing their families for long hours is difficult due to complicated relationships.”

Though dealing with the range of emotions during the holidays can be challenging, there are recommended coping methods one can try. Our paper cites The Mayo Clinic’s tips for coping with holiday stress, which includes:

  • Acknowledge your moods; it’s okay if you don’t feel like celebrating.
  • Reach out: seek out companionship or get involved in community events.
  • Be realistic and accept that traditions may evolve as life changes.
  • Set aside differences and expectations and focus on the positive.
  • Set a realistic budget and stick to it.
  • Maintain healthy habits: eat right, exercise, and make time for yourself.

For more coping recommendations and to learn the signs of major depression, read our paper.

–Ann L. Whitman

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