Don't let the holiday blues get you this season. While the family get-togethers, gift exchanges and parties are part of the joys of the holidays, for some people those things can be stressful and, in some cases, depressing. We talked to Dr. Fatima Ali, a psychiatrist with Linden Oaks at Edward Hospital and DuPage Mental Health Services, about holiday stress and ways to deal with it. Here is an edited transcript of our interview.
Q: What are some of the most common causes of depression around the holidays?
A: Family-related issues such as fights within the family or loss of a loved one. Around the holidays that is really heightened because it's a time of reunions and family get-togethers, and it's a strong reminder of that.
Certainly, economic conditions have been pretty difficult for a lot of people, and those things tend to be more heightened at the holidays because people may not be able to get as many gifts.
Q: What are some of the signs that it's holiday depression and not clinical depression?
A: If you're able to function, go to work and meet friends (and still) feel a little bummed … (but) after a week or so (when the holidays pass) you feel pretty good … that's situational stuff. But if it still hangs over you over the holidays, and you're still getting irritable and trying to isolate yourself and have difficulty concentrating, then that means it's become much more of a serious problem, and you need to get some help.
Q: For some people, stressful family get-togethers are part of the holiday routine. What are some tips for dealing with those situations?
A: (Couples) can sit down and discuss it, whether it be their own family or in-laws. They can discuss how they can be together. If the family can make a combined decision on how they can deal with the conflict situation and how much time they'll spend where, and respect each decision and stick to it, they can avoid a lot of conflicts.
Q: For those who have lost loved ones, the holidays can be a sad time. What are some things people can do to remember their loved ones in a way that brings some joy to the season?
A: Look for things that would be a remembrance of joyful times you spent with the loved one. Rather than focusing on the loss, focus on the joyous moments together and the holidays together. … Those can be a reminder for the positive.
Q: What are some tips for dealing with the holiday blues?
A: If it's more situational and you're still able to function, then (some suggestions would include) not to be alone as much. Try to keep yourself distracted. Go to some support groups or reach out to friends that you may not have been connecting with. That distraction is a good way to get your thoughts away from focusing on the losses or what you don't have.
If you have a hobby, maybe take some classes for it. Nurture yourself, whether it's hobbies, friendship or anything that brings an excitement or joy and gives you a positive energy boost.
Light exercising, yoga or meditation can help. Challenge your negative thoughts about yourself and look at how to reframe them into some positive thoughts or outlook.
Q: Any advice for avoiding some of the stressors at the holiday season?
A: Do a little bit of planning. What are the social activities going on, work activities or financial commitments for gifts? Start a little earlier in terms of planning what you're going to do for the holidays if visiting family.
Don't forget yourself. When you're stressed, the first thing that happens is you forget yourself. Take at least 5-10 minutes in the day where you are just going to stay put and calm your mind.
Q: What role does sleep play in the holidays and stress or depression?
A: Sleep has a great role in it. On average, people should get at least eight hours of sleep. If you're chronically sleep deprived, the ability to handle stress goes down. If you're tired, you're not going to be able to sort things out and plan things.