Beating the Holiday Blues

Try not to isolate yourself during this time of year, since connecting with others can potentially relieve some of the symptoms of depression.

September 18, 2019 17:45
4 minute read.
Beating the Holiday Blues

Try not to forecast failures about your future; instead, look at the New Year as an opportunity. (photo credit: DAVE GINGRICH/FLICKR)

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is quickly approaching. It signals a chance for a clean “spiritual” slate and a new beginning. For many people, the holiday season is an enjoyable part of the year often spent getting together with family and friends. However, some people have difficulty embracing this positive view. Since holidays are anniversaries steeped in ritual and nostalgia, they often bring out psychological comparisons of the past and present. For some, comparing where we are today with where we may have been or where we would like to be in the future can lead to an unexpected nose-dive in mood, rather than inspiring hope.

Perhaps the holiday triggers a memory of the loss of a loved one, or feeling the longing for family. Some others may have negative childhood memories of family holidays and, for them the holiday triggers painful memories of the past. Worrying about health problems is a common cause for mood dives during the holidays, particularly if you or someone close to you is suffering from health issues.

Single people often experience a heightened feeling of loneliness as they see people they know who are in relationships preparing to celebrate together. Financial worries often crystalize during the holiday season with the added pressures to buy additional amounts of food and clothing. Divorced families go through their own special source of stress, as children may dream of seeing their parents together around the table. Older people who are widowed feel a special type of loneliness as they reflect back on time spent with a deceased spouse, think about their own mortality and fear about their future.

Mental health professionals have long recognized that many people get depressed before and during holiday seasons, only to find that their depression lessons significantly as soon as the holiday passes. Called the “holiday blues,” this phenomenon has to do with the cognitive expectation that the holiday season is supposed to be a happy time, but in the back of one’s mind, there may be some things that you may not be happy about, and this contrast can lead to some holiday depression.

Yossie, age 26, lives alone. He came to therapy for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder from an incident that happened during his army service. He has one younger brother with whom he has no relationship. His parents are divorced, and he and his father do not communicate. In addition, his mom often turns to him to help her deal with her problems, which usually overwhelms Yossie.

During the pre-holiday season, Yossie got very depressed. I asked if he had plans for Rosh Hashanah. He looked dumbfounded and did not give me an answer. Since he was already depressed, the pre-holiday season accentuated his feelings that everything in his life was going wrong. Yossie said that although he did not want to be with his mom, he really did not want to be alone for the holiday. I asked him if there was anyone that he could call to see if he could be invited. Reluctant to answer my questions, he remembered about a friend whose parents hosted him for a Shabbat meal. I suggested that he call the friend and ask to join his family. Although he felt embarrassed to do so, I helped him to understand that taking care of yourself and being assertive was not about pride but instead it showed that he had self-esteem.

Not only did the family invite Yossie for both days of Rosh Hashanah meals but also invited him to join them for Sukkot. Yossie learned from this experience that by taking action rather than allowing helplessness and loneliness to drive his behavior, he was able to take care of himself. His depression began to lift.

ADVICE FOR Holiday Blues Sufferers:
• Talk about your feelings with your spouse, a friend or a therapist, especially, if the depression becomes too overwhelming. Do not hold in your feelings.
• Spend time nurturing yourself and doing things that help you feel good about yourself. Work out at the gym, listen to relaxing music or read a good book. Pamper yourself with a massage or a haircut. Buy yourself a present.
• Try not to isolate yourself during this time of year, since connecting with others can potentially relieve some of the symptoms of depression – even if it is only a temporary relief. This may be a great time to join a social group of your own interest.
• If you do not have an invitation for a holiday meal, be pro-active by inviting someone to your home. Sometimes, just telling someone you are alone will land you an invitation. People may not know that you are by yourself.
• Do not forget to take stock in the good things that are going right in your life. When a person is depressed, the positive elements are easily forgotten. Imagine these positive things and express gratitude for them.
• Try not to forecast failures about your future; instead, look at the New Year as an opportunity for positive improvements in all the areas of your life.
Shana Tovah and Happy and Healthy New Year.

The writer is a marital, child and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana. ;

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