coping-with-christmas-ornamentAs the words to one of the popular Holiday songs exclaims: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” But that’s not true for everyone. For some people Christmas provokes more dread than the idealized cheerfulness and nostalgia typically associated with the season. For them the Christmas holiday is a time of extreme stress and often distress. If you’re in this group, teetering on the edge or fearing family interactions, there are some simple strategies for improving your experience.

christmas-expectationsHave realistic expectations
No reality can meet the idealized expectations that accompany the Holiday season. Be aware of the fact that the Christmas holiday is full of more obligations than any other time of year: You are shopping for gifts, traveling great distances, spending time with family and friends you might not readily choose to be with and in some cases, maintaining what might be described as forced gaiety.

family-stressDealing with family
The past is prologue. Look back at past holidays and try to recall what kind of situations or emotions were at play. Some family members may trigger strong negative emotional reactions, so be prepared to change the topic of discussion or gently yet strategically excuse yourself if you start to feel old resentments bubbling up.

Most people try to make their holiday break as short as possible, but waiting to travel on peak days increases your chances of flight delays and road traffic. Try to buffer your trip with a day or two ahead of arrival and do something of interest to you as a treat on the way. This can be a conversation maker later on, when you’re with family and friends.

jogging-in-the-snowMaintain routines
Try to maintain as many of your daily routines as you can while you’re away. Keep to your exercise or yoga session and don’t abandon any dietary rules you live by at home. Take time for yourself to read or walk if you feel trapped by your circumstances.

Are You Depressed?
About 5 percent of the U.S. population experiences seasonal depression between October and March. If you’re close to the Canadian border, the prevalence may be as high as 10%.Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is at its peak right about December 25th. It’s more common in women and is characterized by feeling sad, losing interest in usual activities, increased appetite, especially a craving for carbohydrates, and consequently, weight gain.

People with SAD sleep more but still feel tired. This type of depression can be treated, but treatment takes time to work. If you are suffering from Winter Depression, this may be why you find the holidays so difficult.

fireplace-and-giftsFortunately, most people do enjoy the Christmas holiday. But, if you are stressed or struggling to feel happy, some of the ideas outlined here might help you make the best of the situation.



The author, Norman Sussman MD, a regular contributor to Z’Scoop, is Professor of Psychiatry and Director, Treatment Resistant Depression at the New York University School of Medicine in New York City.

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