Though the holiday season is a time of celebration, for some it’s also a time when sadness, stress, and more serious stints of depression set in. From the barrage of potentially toxic family get-togethers that spring up in December, to wallet-draining shopping sprees for under-the-tree items, there are many energy-depleting events during the winter holidays that can be trying.
Dr. Kita Curry, a licensed psychologist and CEO of Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center, a provider of mental health and substance abuse treatment headquartered in Culver City, said most people go through some sort of emotional shift during the holidays, while some suffer from more serious depressive states linked with a number of causes, including lack of sunlight, biological factors, and life circumstances. Whether you feel extra anxiety or serious hopelessness, Curry and her team at Didi Hirsch can help.
People with suicidal thoughts or feelings of hopelessness, Curry said, should immediately seek professional help. But for those who simply need to find ways of getting a leg-up on the holiday blues, Curry said self-awareness and creation of an action plan are solid tools for beating seasonal stress.
“There are several things that cause stress,” Curry said. “People cause stress, a lack of money causes stress, isolation causes stress. Try to think about what causes you stress and come up with an action plan.”
For those who don’t want to run themselves ragged during Christmas shopping, Curry recommends narrowing the focus to one type of gift for everyone.
“Decide you are going to buy only books or CDs this year, and you will drastically limit the number of stores you have to visit,” Curry said. She also suggests making a donation to charity in the name of a loved one, or simply telling people that the present economic situation won’t allow for gift giving. If money is the most pressing issue on your mind this holiday season, fear not. Curry claims that the economic downturn gives everyone a clear understanding that this Christmas is a lean time for many people. Parents, Curry said, should talk openly and honestly with their children about the economic climate and use it as an opportunity to teach them about responsible spending. Seeking free activities during the winter school break is also a good way for families to bond without financial strain. Activities that include a healthy dose of sunshine are ideal for those negatively impacted by the shortened days of winter.
On the issue of togetherness, Curry said it’s a good thing on the holidays, but it can also be a problem for some. If you don’t like big crowds, but you know you have to go to a crowded holiday dinner, for instance, Curry suggests limiting the amount of time you spend at the gathering, or finding ways to break up the day.
“Take a long walk alone after dinner,” Curry said. “Or book a hotel room instead of staying with relatives if you’re visiting family in another state.”
She also suggests being ready for those relatives and friends who like to bring up hot button issues during holiday gatherings, like politics and religion. Don’t be afraid to change the subject, said Curry. She also recommends that spouses talk with one another about their holiday traditions and be clear on what they can and cannot do together.
On the flipside of togetherness is the unhealthy tendency toward isolation that people may resort to when feeling down during the holidays. Curry suggests that those who are alone due to a recent death or divorce should seek out friends.
“Though it isn’t always easy to ask for an invitation, people usually love to help others around the holidays,” Curry said, adding that those who know someone who might be alone on the holidays can help by extending an invitation.
If your thoughts turn to a deceased loved one during the holidays, Curry suggests actively celebrating that person rather than burying feelings of sadness. Setting a place for a dearly departed relative, or sharing memories about the deceased are just two tactics Curry recommends for dealing with grief.
Last but not least, Curry says positive thinking is important. “Don’t expose yourself to too much negative news or obsessively watch the stock market,” Curry said. “It’s like people who watched 9-11 footage over and over again – you can re-traumatize yourself.”
The experts at the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center have been providing mental health services throughout Los Angeles County for more than 60 years. They can be reached at 310.390.6612 or via their 24-hour crisis line at 877.727-4747.