The holiday season ought to be filled with joy, but for many it brings out feelings of depression or isolation. Beat those feelings by being proactive with these tips.
The holiday season is supposed to be a happy time, filled with family and friends, with thankfulness and joy.
But for those dealing with depression, the winter months and the holiday schedule can bring an increased darkening of spirit. Leonard Lempa, behavioral health intake coordinator for Presence Saint Joseph Hospital in Elgin, says social isolation is one of the major reasons why the “happiest time of year” isn’t always so happy for some.
“Some face depression throughout the year, but it seems to intensify at the holidays,” Lempa says. “Along with feelings of isolation, these people also may be dealing with unrealistic expectations that complicate their interaction with family, friends and coworkers.”
Many people experience structural problems including difficulty in connecting with others, Lempa says. Depression can also stem from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), caused by the decrease in sunlight from winter-shortened days and overcast weather. About 50 percent of people are adversely affected by SAD, to some extent, he says.
“We see patients who become so depressed and dislocated that they sign themselves into the hospital just to be around other people,” Lempa says. “At Saint Joseph, the staff is especially sensitive to patients during the holidays and go out of their way to make them feel needed. While most of the hospital population is at its lowest during the holidays because the number of elective surgeries and other treatments are reduced, we see a steady population in the behavioral health department.”
Lempa stresses that, while there are no easy fixes for holiday-time depression, there are ways in which people can help themselves to ease the sadness.
“Get out,” Lempa says. “Get off the couch, turn off the computer and TV. Go for a walk, even if it’s just for a few blocks or a stroll around the nearest shopping mall. The fresh air, mild exercise, sunlight and being around other people can lift spirits.”
It may also help to get involved in the community.
“Volunteer at church or through a local nonprofit organization,” Lempa says. “Visit nursing homes or children’s wards at the hospital. Put on a Santa suit and interact with others. Go to a local homeless shelter and help serve meals. By bringing happiness to someone else, it’s possible you will start to feel better about yourself.”
Next, don’t agonize over the perceived need to spend time with people for longer than you feel comfortable, Lempa says.
“Relieve the stress of meeting others’ expectations,” he adds. “Don’t be afraid to change things up. If you don’t want to spend the entire day with family or friends, shorten the time you plan to be with them.”
Lempa points out that people often compensate for their depressed feelings by overindulging in food and drink.
“The holidays come with an abundance of opportunities to eat too much and drink too much,” he says. “Develop a strategy to avoid overindulgence. Put a limit on the number of drinks you have at every event. Try to keep all those goodies out of the house, and keep busy talking to other guests at parties, so you don’t hover around the food.”
When depression deepens to the point where someone considers hurting himself or herself, Lempa encourages connecting with a help line or behavioral health outreach in order to get support and counseling.
“The best coping action for depression is to take action,” Lempa says. “It may take effort and some research to find a good fit, something that appeals to the person and puts them in a more positive frame of mind. The best coping strategy: don’t just sit there. Do something.”