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STRESSES CAN MAKE CHRISTMAS COLORS ALL `BLUES’

SHARE STRESSES CAN MAKE CHRISTMAS COLORS ALL `BLUES’

Depression steals.

One day, you wake up to find the colors, the textures, the fine crisp scents have gone away.Your limbs are heavy and you wonder why you even have to get up. You have nothing to look forward to.

The holidays don't help. While others bustle through the malls, selecting presents and humming carols under their breath, you go through the motions. Or maybe you don't even pretend, choosing a bah-humbug demeanor instead.

Telling yourself, "I should be happy" only makes you feel worse. You aren't happy.

Holiday blues. Everybody gets them at one time or another. Mental health experts say it's because our expectations are high - we've been taught that this is a joyous time of year. The reality is sometimes disappointing. Other people have it better; they have more money, more people to love them, more to celebrate.

There's good news. Holiday blues isn't necessarily a full-blown, chronic depression, although that gets worse for some sufferers during the holidays. Chronic depression is a form of mental illness that can debilitate the sufferer. But some holiday depression is seasonal - it passes.

This psychological depression often links "Christmas to an unhappy history," according to Dr. Dan Christensen, Western Institute of Neuropsychiatry. "Maybe it's tied to when someone was young and Dad was always drunk and there wasn't enough money and the person felt unworthy. The season is `down' for them."

Psychotherapy may be the best solution for people who are severely afflicted during the holidays, he said. "Christmas may have troubled meanings. And often people don't connect it all up. They don't relate it to their childhoods or whatever. Professional help to discover it and leave it in the past is best for that."

Another form of biological depression hits around the holidays. Seasonal affective disorder disturbs people who have a "peculiar response to a lessening of light in the atmosphere that happens in winter," Christensen said.

Some cope by heading south for the winter. Others benefit from an artificial light treatment. Some receive effective treatment from medication.

Regardless of the depression's cause, there are ways to lessen or cope with disappointment and pain.

"Consider the stresses that commonly underlie seasonal depression," Christensen said. "It's been known for a long time that the amount and type of symptoms have a direct relationship to the stress and strain in one's life. And this is a stressful season. The more change, pressure, etc., the more likely there will be physical and/or emotional illnesses."

Dr. Donnis Reese, director of Behavioral Medicine at Lakeview Hospital, compares people to houses. They have four walls - emotional, spiritual, physical and social sides. With proper care, the structure is sound. Allow one wall to fall into disrepair, and the whole structure may collapse.

Most people, she said, know what they should do for their physical side. Things like eating regular nutritious meals, getting adequate sleep and exercise.

Holidays make the emotional side vulnerable because people tend to blame themselves when they don't accomplish everything they think they should.

The spiritual side is a firm set of values and a belief system about how the universe works, whether or not it's a belief in a specific God.

To care for the social side, people need to know who their friends are. And if they can't readily think of several people they can turn to for support and understanding, that wall is weak and must be strengthened.

Christensen said people can help themselves by setting realistic budgets and not adding extra pressure through impulse and competitive buying.

They must also let go of perfection, "the dream that everyone around is totally and divinely pleased. The perfect gift is a fantasy, and search for it is often guilt-driven. A form of overcompensation."

Realize that children don't need the biggest and best. What they need is love and assurance that they have a special place, that their families are happy places for them to be.

Many of the family pressures result from a system of "traditions people doggedly maintain from generation to generation, though it's a burden," he said.

Finally, on a practical level, Christensen said that "the eat, drink and be merry syndrome brings stress with it. There's some stress that comes with weight gain and worrying about how to take pounds off later. People should try to continue their healthful habits through the holiday season."