Beating the blues

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2003

After a month of intense build up, planning and excitement, it's over. The last scrap of tinsel has been swept up and the left-over wrapping paper is boxed up for the next 11 months. For many people, the days following Christmas and New Year's lead not to stress relief and the first relaxing moment in six weeks, but to depression.

The holiday blues are more common than most realize, with almost everyone feeling some sort of let-down after the intense rush of preparation. Unlike many emotional and mental disorders, these blues tend to fade after the holidays are over and normal routines resume.

However, knowing the blues are going to go away doesn't make them any easier to bear. According to experts, the best thing to do is find someone to talk with who can help you through the rough spots -

a family member, friend, member of the clergy, or a physician or professional counselor if the depression looks like it's getting too much to cope with.

Some symptoms of the holiday blues may include: headaches, the inability to sleep or sleeping too much;

changes in appetite causing weight loss or gain; agitation and anxiety; excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt; diminished ability to think clearly or concentrate; and decreased interest in activities that usually bring pleasure, such as food, sex, work, friends, hobbies or entertainment.

While some of the causes aren't easy to avoid, some can be, and some can at least be lessened. Getting ready for Christmas, coping with visiting and visitors, and juggling finances for presents and travel

can increase stress, a major factor in depression. Other factors include fatigue, unrealistic expectations, the inability to be with family, memories of past holiday celebrations, alcohol and other mood-altering drug consumption, over-commercialization, changes in diet, and changes in daily routines.

To decrease the overall impact if these factors, the University of Maryland Medical Department offers this list of "Do's and Don'ts" for the holidays:

€ Do follow the three basics for good health: eat right, get plenty of rest, and exercise regularly.

€ Do set realistic goals: organize your time, make lists, prioritize, and make a budget and follow it.

€ Do let go of the past and create new or different ways to celebrate.

€ Do allow yourself to feel sad, lonely or melancholy - these are normal feelings, particularly at holiday times.

€ Do something for someone else.

€ Do enjoy activities that are free.

€ Do spend time with people who care about you.

€ Do spend time with new people or a different set of friends or family.

€ Do contact someone with whom you have lost touch.

€ Do give yourself a break - plan to prepare (or buy) one special meal, purchase one special gift, and take in one special event. The rest can be ordinary, but will seem special because of the time of year and the people you're with.

€ Do treat yourself as a special holiday guest.

The Don'ts of managing holiday blues:

€ Don't drink too much alcohol.

€ Don't overindulge in holiday foods, especially those that are high in sugar and fat.

€ Don't have unrealistic expectations of yourself or others.

€ Don't dwell on the past.

€ Don't focus on what you don't have.

€ Don't spend money you don't have.

Above all, the experts urge, don't be afraid to ask for help. Depression, even when it's "only" the holiday blues, can feed back on itself, increasing in intensity. Those with the blues tend not to eat right or get enough rest, which only contributes to the problem, increasing the potential for a deeper depression. There are agencies and help lines available for those in need, including the South Central Alabama Mental Health Clinic, at 222-2523, with an emergency after-hours number of 222-7794.