Auburn, Alabama — For most people, the holidays are festive occasions and a time for deepening friendships and family ties. However, for some, the holidays bring unpleasant side effects and depression.
Most of what we hear about holiday depression or holiday blues comes from the press. Sometimes it is difficult to sort out folklore from the facts, said Debra Ward, a family and child development regional agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. While there has been little research on the topic, it is true that the number of admissions to mental health institutions for treatment of depression-related illnesses increase just after the holiday season.
“Expectations people have for the holiday season sometimes set them up for depression,” said Ward. “They expect everything to be so perfect when the family visits that they become physically and emotionally exhausted.”
Some people reflect on holiday seasons of the past and feel sad that the holidays are not what they used to be. For some, when visiting with family and friends, they expect a high degree of closeness and quality time even though they haven’t visited with each other in quite a while.
Mothers are especially vulnerable to depression during the holidays. They feel personally responsible to see that everyone in the family has a great time. They may feel guilty if someone does not fully enjoy the holidays.
When holidays hold special religious meaning, some people may expect special spiritual feelings and feel disappointed if they don’t experience them. Ward said narrowing the distance between beliefs and behavior can help avoid the holiday depression trap.
“Unhappiness and frustration occurs when what happens doesn’t match what was expected to happen. On one hand, you may need to adjust your beliefs about what should happen over the holidays. On the other hand, you may need to act more in accord with your beliefs. For example, you may have holiday-related expectations about housekeeping, meal preparation, gift giving and receiving, relationships and other things.
Look at these carefully and ask, “Are these realistic?” It is not realistic to expect that you will clean the carpets, draperies and closets, refinish the kitchen chairs and wash every inch of walls, woodwork and windows before relatives arrive.
If you feel lonely during the holidays and want to spend more time with others, make plans now to do it.