Doc Talk: Dropping unrealistic holiday expectations is key to avoiding seasonal depression

In this week's Doc Talk: avoiding depression during the holidays. (WWMT/File)

It’s the time of year when gray skies, cold weather and shorter days combine with the added stress of the holidays.

Ann Crabb, a therapist at Ascension Borgess, explains that while the media presents wonderful, flawless images of Christmas, the reality is, not everyone experiences a joyous holiday.

“We really do put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have this perfect Christmas where everything sparkles, and it doesn’t happen for probably 90 percent of us,” Crabb said.

Whether it’s the struggle to find the perfect gift or the first holiday after a loved one has passed away, Crabb and Eric Darnall, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, said they see a lot of patients battling with depression around the holidays.

Darnall said it’s more common than people realize.

“People think mental health is a stigma sometimes; but in reality, it’s something a lot of us go through," he said.

Even after the holidays are over, Crabb and Darnall said, those feelings of sadness can linger and could be triggered by the season. They consider that Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“You want to sleep more, you want to eat more, you have more irritability maybe; and those are some of the signs you really look for,” Darnall said.

To prevent those feelings or changes in mood or behavior, Crabb and Darnall stress practicing the basics of good health by getting plenty of rest, exercising and eating right. They said it’s important to cut yourself some slack and not let the hustle and bustle or gloominess of the season overshadow what’s important.

“Enjoy the people, enjoy the occasion and just drop the unrealistic expectations," Crabb said.

If you’re missing someone or feeling lonely, Crabb suggested creating new traditions or volunteering to help improve your mood.

As far as additional treatment, there are several available options.

Darnall said some patients might have the option to use certain vitamins or dawn- simulating lights. Other options include therapy and/or medication.

“It’s always a good idea to talk to someone if you’re going through problems, regardless of the time of year," Darnall said. "Holidays are hard for a lot of people.”

If you do have questions and concern, or feel you need to talk to a professional, Crabb and Darnall recommend starting by talking to your personal care provider.

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