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Preventing the Holiday Blues Between Christmas and New Years

The period between Christmas and New Years is often stressful. While some studies show that psychiatric visits and suicide rates don't rise in December, the popular perception of the "holiday blues" can still affect those who are already feeling low.

Feelings That Can Lead to Holiday Depression

There are quite a few common feelings that can be triggered by the holidays, and therefore add to the holiday blues. These include:

  • Unrealistic expectations - The assumption that the holidays will always be a happy, perfect time can lead to anxiety and depression when problems arise. This is especially true if the superficial trappings of the holidays - such as gift-giving and partying - are expected to compensate for underlying unhappiness.
  • Nostalgia - Fond memories of previous holidays sometimes keeps the present from measuring up. Moreover, remembering past holidays as better than they actually were can turn every future holiday into a let-down.
  • Loneliness - Holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years stress togetherness and family. But for those who, through no fault of their own, are alone during the holidays, the cheer of others can be a painful reminder.
  • Fear and anxiety - Long, dark winters can take an emotional toll, most of all on those in poor health or seniors. But even those who don't fear making it to the following spring can get the holiday blues from shorter and colder days. This is especially true if they spend their days working inside, and it's dark when they commute.

No one group is immune to the causes of holiday depression. Whether they are based on too much pessimism or too much optimism about Christmas, such feelings can happen to anyone.

Ways to Avoid Holiday Depression

Luckily, there are many simple coping strategies for dealing with minor depression, anxiety, or simple end-of-year malaise. These usually involve a change of scene or attitude:

  • Revise expectations and priorities - Realizing that holidays won't be perfect goes a long way to cut stress and depression for those with impossibly high standards. Pleasant surprises will seem like a bonus, instead of making up for a perceived shortfall.
  • Scale back entertaining - Some get depressed during the holidays due to over-scheduling, or socializing among disagreeable company. It's okay to be more selective in attending parties, and to throw smaller gatherings of one's own. People who spend time with those that make them feel comfortable tend to be happier and less lonely.
  • Stay away from the mall - If the pressure to find Christmas presents is likely to add to anxiety, trying to do so among crowds and displays can only compound the holiday blues. Doing shopping early, or even online, can reduce stress. Patronizing out-of-the-way local businesses, instead of huge box stores, can also help.
  • Take a trip - A change of scene can be a good way of dealing with depression any time of year. Visiting a sunnier place can be a good idea if dark winters get dull. Trying a new experience closer to home is another possibility, such an outing to a museum or a concert that's not on a seasonal theme.
  • Volunteer - Spending time helping out at a hospital or shelter is a rewarding experience that can chase away holiday depression. In addition to keeping the mind off one's own troubles, volunteering is a good way to interact with different people in a new environment.

If none of these changes helps, or if the depression outlasts the holidays, it's a good idea to consult a doctor or medical health professional.

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