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Holiday Depression? Help Is Out There

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‘Tis the season to be jolly, but for many the challenge is just getting through the holidays while dealing with depression and elevated stress levels. But one mental health expert says there are ways to cope.

“The holidays are happy times for many of us or all of us, probably; however, we sometimes overload ourselves with stuff. And that can trigger stress and can trigger depression,” said Dr. David Josephs, Clinical Director at the Lakeview Center in Pensacola.

Something to look out for, he says, is behavior outside one’s normal routine.

“We don’t think as well when we’re stressed; the things that we used to be able to figure out pretty quickly – issues with our kids – we’re just not as efficient” Josephs said. “We snap, we’re more angry, more irritable. And it’s interesting that people notice that in us before we notice it in ourselves.”

Along with the spiritual side to Christmas, there is the materialistic. One source for stress can be economic through the exchange of gifts. Some view this as a competition that absolutely has to be won to impress friends, loved ones and neighbors. Josephs says it’s kind of a holiday expectation.

“It’s one of the big stresses that we’ve all had at Christmas time or at holiday times, is spending more than we have,” said Josephs. “Keeping up with the Joneses or believing we have to give monetary stuff, that puts us in some jeopardies [and is] problematic.”

Some are coping with the passing of a loved one since last Christmas, or since this holiday season began. The grieving, says Joseph, can be exacerbated when it conflicts with normal celebrations.

“Grieving is a process; we remember the person that we love and we’re grieving,” said Josephs. “I think sometimes people forget that grieving is natural; actually, crying is natural. That’s not depression; that’s just grieving and the holidays trigger our sense of that. If that persists, then that can become depression.”

Two obvious red flags warning of problems during the holidays are the use – or the increased usage -- of alcohol and drugs.

“Drug and alcohol, risky behavior; we do things that we normally wouldn’t do – so all of these are red flags,” Josephs said.  

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Dr. David Josephs, Clinical Director, Lakeview Center of Pensacola.

Sometimes a tragedy can trigger a depressive state of mind, such as an unexpected trauma. The latest example would be the mass shooting aboard NAS Pensacola earlier this month, where the gunman and three others died and eight people were wounded.

“However, it’s important to remember with trauma is that we’re built to recover; we’re built for resiliency,” said Josephs. “Traumas don’t mean we get sick; traumas don’t mean bad things are going to happen to us. But we have to acknowledge that it was painful; it was a very bad thing. And people we care about as a community, and the area we care about as a community, was injured.”

Whatever bad feelings one is experiencing this holiday season, there is help available in a number of forms. Josephs says the first move is to have a talk with yourself and acknowledge reality. Stuff, he says, doesn’t get better by pretending it’s not there.

“The second [move] would be find somebody you trust and depend on to say, ‘Listen, I just don’t think I’m kind of myself,’” said Josephs. “And sometimes that might be all that’s needed. If the feelings persist then there may need to be some professional help, or your clergy – who often function in management of these issues.”

One of the roadblocks to seeking help is the stigma that’s attached to mental health treatment. That stigma exists, says Joseph, because popular thought is that such issues are different from regular health issues.

“Mental health issues are brain issues, alright? We all have a brain,” said Josephs. “I think that once we recognize that depression, sadness, even some of the other symptoms that come from trauma or long-term issues, is simply brain stuff that’s manageable, treatable, and addressable.”

Staying busy during the holidays – or any other time of the year – can help – whatever the activity is that helps us reboot and recharge.

“For some people it’s movement; for some people it’s actually having 10 min. of quiet,” said Josephs. “During the holidays we should find ‘what is it that really chills me out? What is it that fills me up?’ For some people it’s going to church; so do more of the things that fills you up and calms you.”

When it comes to children and the holidays, the Lakeview Center’s David Josephs says the main thing to remember is that kids “are not little adults” – they don’t have the emotional processing capacity as grownups.

“So don’t assume that the things you’re seeing on TV and react on TV, that they will react and see the same way,” Josephs said. “Try and shield your children from some of the things that are out there, that you hear over and over again. Things will be OK, especially when bad things happen in the community. [Tell them] you know, mommy and daddy has you; we’ll protect you, you’ll be OK.”

Other ways of coping from the website psychcentral.com, make your own holiday traditions; involve yourself in service to others, and keep a sense of humor by remembering the old Japanese proverb: “Time spent laughing is time spent with the gods.”