TUESDAY, Nov. 21, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- With the holidays just about here, so, too, are the comforting seasonal images of cheer -- family get-togethers, lavish dinners, and the bustle of shopping and gift-giving.
But for some, the holidays are a source of sadness. The period from Thanksgiving to New Year's can offer unwanted reminders of loss -- perhaps the death of a loved one or a recent divorce, said Dr. Eric Hollander, director of the Compulsive, Impulsive and Anxiety Disorder Program at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
A number of factors can contribute to the "holiday blues," including troubled family relationships, stress, fatigue, lack of sunlight, unrealistic expectations, images in the media, and financial constraints.
"The holidays also come at the end of the year, when people tend to evaluate what they have done in the previous year. If they feel like they haven't made sufficient progress, they may feel a sense of loss," said Dr. Boadie Dunlop, assistant professor of psychiatry at Emory University in Atlanta.
People struggling with the holiday blues may experience feelings of sadness, tension, and stress; changes in sleep patterns; a lack of energy; diminished interest in favorite activities; or excessive drinking or eating.
Fortunately, there are ways to cope.
"Maintaining healthful lifestyle patterns and getting together with others is especially important during the holidays," said Hollander.
He suggests making a special effort to get as much sunlight as possible, exercise regularly, eat a healthful diet, and keep up social connections during the holiday season.
If you're feeling sad, stressed, or tense during the holidays, Dunlop suggests the following:
- Set reasonable goals. To avoid overextending yourself during the holidays, plan ahead, avoid chaotic situations, and stick to a budget.
- Have reasonable expectations. If your holidays aren't perfect, that's OK. Prioritize what is and isn't important for you to do.
- Get enough rest. Set aside time for yourself to relax and sleep during the busy season.
- Avoid dwelling on the past. If you find yourself focusing on unpleasant thoughts, find something else to do, such as taking a walk or visiting a friend.
- Focus on the positive. Instead of worrying about what you haven't done in the past year, talk with someone about all the positive things that have happened during that time.
- Don't overindulge in alcohol or food. Enjoy holiday meals in moderation, because excessive food and drink will just make you feel worse.
Fortunately, the symptoms of depression associated with the holiday season usually don't last. "The holiday blues should lift within a couple of weeks after the holiday season ends," Dunlop said.
But get help if you think you need it. According to Hollander, if you have a marked change in your sleep or energy patterns, or struggle with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, seek the help of an experienced mental-health practitioner.
To learn more, visit New York Online Access to Health.