Vol. 22, No. 5,514 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2016



by Harvey Widroe, M.D.
American Reporter Correspondent
Orinda, Calif.
November 21, 2007
Shrink's Progress
HOLIDAY BLUES

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ORINDA, Calif. -- "I'm supposed to be happy! So where is the happiness?"

Barbara she said she was depressed like this every holiday season and denied that she was suicidal. Life, she said, was still worth living. And her husband and kids loved her. So she didn't have any zest for the holidays, but even with low energy she would drag herself through the motions.

The Thanksgiving turkey would be cooked on time. The Christmas gifts would all be purchased with some modicum of thought. And the Christmas ham would make everyone else apparently happy and content. All except for Barbara.

She pretended everything was okay and tried to be a wonderful actress, smiling at everyone and making the appropriate small talk so as not to sour the atmosphere for everyone else.

Barbara is like untold numbers of others who suffer from holiday blues, a mild to moderate form of apathetic depression.

Do you share this problem with Barbara? At a time when more energy is called for, she had less energy available. Getting out of bed to tend to a thousand holiday tasks seemed like an onerous chore that she couldn't possibly complete to meet all of the holiday deadlines.

Food doesn't really taste all that good to her, but she eats more just because it is there; typically a superabundance of cookies, cakes, and pies that seem to appear all over the place. And when the Christmas gifts finally are opened, they don't have a lot of appeal to her - even when she picks out something special for herself and for someone else to give to her.

So what is going on? Why can't Barbara, and thousands of others like her, enjoy the holidays? Why be the one secretly wishing that the holidays didn't happen or just wishing them to be over with?

The holidays are loaded with intense feelings based on irrational thoughts that vary in degrees of consciousness. Some are the residue of childhood experiences or relationships. Others are determined by our immediate or more global cultural settings.

"Everyone is having fun except me!" They are all invited to more parties. They are going to get more gifts. They can buy all the stuff in the mountain of catalogues delivered almost daily to your door. If you're like Barbara, you get to hear about the wonderful gifts your kids friends are going to get. They are able to waltz off for more vacation fun.

"No one appreciates how much I do for them." Taking care of unappreciative others, to some degree overlooked during the rest of the year, is now highlighted during the holiday season. There is more "taking care of" that needs to be done during the holiday season. In this syndrome, you get to do the dirty work of shopping for people's gifts, some of whom you don't really care about. And they merely take it for granted that you will send them a present.

Not least, if you're like Barbara and many thousands of others, you get to clean the house for the holiday visitors. You get to do all the food shopping, food preparation, and the after-dinner cleanup. You are the one who has to host relatives and others who are unpleasant or boring. You even get to stand in line to do the post-holiday gift exchanges. And like the rest of the year, there is little emotional payoff - even for the increased effort holiday season effort.

"The holidays just aren't fun. Why bother?" For some, the holidays present the emotional equivalent of "lumps of coal" in our holiday stockings, the threat most of us heard and laughed at as kids. Our parents loved us, and we knew that in the end we would get at least a few of the nice things that we wanted. But for some the "lumps of coal" threat came true in the form of a childhood lack of love from unfeeling self-concerned parents.

So if this is you, what can you do to fight the holiday blues?

  • Try to keep your wits about you. Remember that the holidays are a time- limited stress period. Counting days may seem cold and calculated. But day by day the numbers do grow smaller. And the relief of early January can be envisioned on the horizon like a beacon of hope.
  • It also makes sense to cut back on what you think is expected of you. Trim your list of Xmas cards and gifts. Don't obsess about it. Make decisions! Shift some people from the gift list to the holiday card list. The impact will be only a minor ripple on the character of your relationships with them.
  • For holiday dinners, you are not required to cook every last item. Buy some of the dishes at the supermarket People will still have a great meal, and you will feel much better if some of the burden is taken off of you.
  • Buy gift certificates on the phone or on line. You will be amazed at the energy and time that you will save. As a rule other people aren't really offended that you didn't take the time and effort to buy them a special gift. They get the advantage of not having to exchange a gift. Even better they don't have to hold onto an unwanted gift in order to show you at some later date how much they appreciate what you have given them.
  • If you went to the gym before, keep on going. If you didn't exercise before, any kind of exercise will do. You don't have to make time for an hour long cardiovascular workout to help you feel less depressed. Even ten minutes a day will be helpful in producing the brain endorphins we all need to feel better.
  • And don't beat yourself up for eating too much. No matter what your resolutions may be, during the holidays you will eat more than you usually do. If you can limit your weight gain to less than five pounds, you deserve a gold star. Go back to your regular weight control efforts after the first of the year.
  • If you spot someone who seems down, even someone who is not that close to you, talk to them. Did you ever say to your grocery clerk, "You seem stressed today. Are you OK? You will be surprised at the positive response you are likely to get. You may end up feeling better as a result of your kind gesture.

I always advise my patients who are already suffering from depression not to reduce their antidepressant or tranquilizer medications until after the holidays - January or even February - as a kind of emotional insurance policy.

Because the stressors are all over the place, the holiday blues seem to come out of nowhere. But a little thought and preparation can spare us a lot of unhappiness.

Harvey Widroe, a longtime practicing psychiatrist, is the author of the recently published, "The Smart Dieter's Cheating Guide: Eat and Watch Pounds Melt Away," with Ron Kenner (Outskirts Press)

Copyright 2016 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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