House Calls

Medical and other musings of a plastic surgeon

Tips for surviving the holidays

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It is an ironic fact that the “holidays”, typically recognized as the period from Thanksgiving to New Years, are at once both a time of great anticipation and delight, and one in which depression frequently surfaces or worsens.

Holidays place tremendous demands on our time and energy and create great anticipation that, all too often, goes unfulfilled. Unfortunately, the idyllic time of gathering around family for a holiday meal, attending parties and functions, and basking in the glow of a warm fire in the hearth while roasting chestnuts and drinking hot chocolate with a loved one just doesn’t happen for many people.

For people who are already depressed, the holidays can trigger a worsening of this condition. Even for those who are not, unmet expectations can put them into a ‘blue funk’. It helps to recognize some of the triggers so that you can plan ahead.

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Relationships are one trigger. These can be complicated for everyone but tensions and conflicts may surface when people come together for the holidays. Loneliness in those who lack a stable, loving relationship can be another trigger. Finances can be a stressor. People are expected to spend money on gifts, travel, entertainment, etc. above and beyond what they do the rest of the year. Another trigger is fatigue. The hectic pace of the holidays places many physical demands on people and lack of adequate rest may precipitate a downturn in mood.

As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. Planning ahead and taking control of the holidays is your best strategy. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following steps can help you navigate the turbulent holiday waters successfully.

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1. Be aware that this can happen. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. You cannot control how you feel and acknowledging this can be very liberating. It also allows you to plan accordingly. You control what you do about your feelings.

2. Reach out to others. Nothing helps improve how you feel inside more than turning outside of yourself to help others. There are countless opportunities. Check with your community food kitchen, your church, hospital, etc. for volunteer opportunities. Busy yourself helping others and you will not only feel better, you will almost certainly meet like-minded individuals.

3. Be realistic. No family is perfect. People change. Traditions change. Every one has time constraints, other commitments, and many of the same demands on them that you have, so accept that you might not be able to do all the things you wish with those you would like to be with and have alternative plans in place.

4. Don’t focus all your energies, physical or emotional, on just one or two days. Try to “live in the moment” and enjoy each day as it comes. Seek out positive friends and those who lift you up.

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5. Track your finances. Make out a budget for your spending and try to stick to it. Allow yourself a little indulgence; after all, it is the holiday season.  Just don’t spend mindlessly or impulsively. Some of the best gifts cost nothing but your time and presence (see volunteering above).

6. Don’t dwell on the past. New Years is a time when many people get down because of unmet expectations for the past year. Rather than make sweeping resolutions that you are unlikely to keep, try for a couple of realistic ones with a measurable goal.

7. Don’t abandon your healthy habits. Planning ahead for parties and other gatherings will allow you to stay on a diet. Excess sugar and fat intake has been linked with holiday depression. Alcohol is a depressant so watch your intake. If in doubt, abstain. Stick with your exercise program. Exercise releases endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals in your brain. Get enough rest. Fatigue will depress your immune system and make you more likely to get sick.

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8. Don’t over commit. You don’t have to have the best decorated house on the block or send out cards to everyone you ever knew. Learn to say no if you are feeling pressured to do more than you are comfortable with. You only have 24 hours in the day; save some if for yourself.

In an ideal world, you would not get depressed at all, or you would be able to manage this yourself but that is not the world we live in. If you find yourself becoming depressed and are not able to deal with this yourself, seek professional help. Admitting you need help is not an admission of weakness. Everyone reaches the limit of their ability to cope at some time in their life. Wishing you happy holidays…….


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