One week from today not everyone in the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving. There is an abundance of people – perhaps in your own family or in your Sunday School class – who wish there was no Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year’s Eve. For those who struggle with depression and other mental disorders, festive holidays are awful.
You see, people like me watch as our dearest friends relish in giving thanks, awaiting the day Christ was born in a manger, and greeting the New Year with delight but it’s tough for us to feel any of that. It’s as though your soul is empty. When I was growing up we always had at least 50 people to celebrate Thanksgiving. My little sister would dress up like Pocahontas, my younger brothers like pilgrims and somebody would bang out “We Gather Together to Sing the Lord’s blessings” on the piano.
Now there is only me.
Whoa, don’t worry! I’ll be well taken care of as I will spend next Thursday with those I deeply love – my day is set -- and, before that, I’ll make out a list of “Why I Am Thankful” that is a singular treat for me every year. But I use myself as an example for this reason – If I fail to plan, I plan to fail. You or your loved ones can put on the same armor.
This is to say if I prepare myself beforehand for the stress, and the loneliness, and use my glorious memories for warmth and joy rather than for longing and sorrow, I can cope just fine. I am a master at avoiding “the black dog,” as Winston Churchill called his depression, but some of my friends have a tough time and we can’t have that.
So now is the time to establish a plan.
The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) knows that those who are even mildly depressed can avoid the pitfalls by preparing themselves for the holidays. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America offers these ideas to consider:
* -- Cope ahead. Prepare for worst-case scenarios at work or family gatherings. Decide in advance how long you’ll stay and stick to your plan.
* -- Balance activities. Try to spend some time with others as well as time alone.
* -- Find meaning. Ask yourself what you appreciate most about the holidays and make sure you focus on it.
* -- Manage your environment. Choose people and places that add to your overall well-being rather than deplete or challenge it. Consider attending counseling or support groups. Regular exposure to bright light, particularly fluorescent light, can help prevent or improve symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
* -- Take care of you. Avoid mood-altering substances, take medications as prescribed, connect with others, rest, and find enjoyment in your activities.
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Sheri Pruitt is a psychologist in California who has authored about 50 professional publications in the areas of behavioral medicine and health psychology. She is considered as an expert on the “holiday blues” and here’s her take on managing them:
“The holidays are a time of joy for most people. However, holiday time can also mean a bout of the "blues." Here are some tips that should help:
* -- Set realistic expectations for the holidays. As special as they are, they will not erase all of your past problems.
* -- Remember that it's okay not to feel festive all of the time. If you are feeling down, just let others know.
* -- Take some time for yourself. Plan activities that you enjoy, and spend time with family or close friends.
* -- Be sure to get plenty of sleep, eat healthy meals, stay active, and limit your intake of alcohol.
What if someone you love has the blues?
* -- Try to involve that person in holiday activities, but don't be forceful.
* -- Be a good listener. Remember that the holidays can be a tough time for some people, and letting them talk about it may be all they need.
The good news is that, for most people, holiday blues are temporary. However for some people, the holidays can bring on the more serious condition of clinical depression. If you or someone you know doesn't shake the blues after a few weeks, it's time to talk with your doctor.
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Once again: If you fail to plan for the holidays, you plan to fail.