Wasn’t It Time For Celebration? Holiday Blues, Really?

brain-based approach

The holidays are a time for joyful celebrations, merry-making with friends and family, good tidings, and abundant generosity. Why is it then that for some people this may be a period of increased sadness, anxiety and even depression?

There´s a myth about the holidays blues which has been popular and even intended to be backed up with evidence. In fact, much has been written about the “holiday blues,” but as it turns out, not all of it is accurate. A 2014 analysis by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 70 percent of news reports published on the topic in the previous holiday season perpetuated the myth without correction, a proportion that has remained essentially unchanged since 2010.

Truth of the matter according to these studies is that holidays might be a tipping point for some people who are already vulnerable to depression recurrence.

“Holidays can be a time when the things that trigger depression–grief, disputes, transitions–are in abundance,” says Myrna Weissman Ph.D., member of Dana Alliance for Brain Initatives.

“Loved ones may have died or aren’t able to be nearby, so a person is alone and grieving. Disputes can arise that may be suppressed during the rest of the year because people aren’t seeing one another or don’t have the same expectations as they might have around the holidays. Transitions–all of the normal and abnormal kinds of changes in one’s life, such as children leaving home, moving–these things can make it more difficult to see loved ones or experience the same interactions.” She adds.

To Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD. professor of psychology at Yale University, looking back at the year that has passed may generate thoughts of unaccomplished goals. Focusing on the negative, the problems that wheren´t resolved and what she calls the habit of rumination- going over and over the problems in the mind- without developing a plan to solve them contribute to a general feeling of depression. Rumination feeds the depression and viceversa.

In addition to all that, the normal stress of the end of the year caused by additional things to do, expectation of buying presents, says Eric J. Nestler, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chairman of neuroscience and director of the Friedman Brain Institute at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, concerns about the new coming year, can be a cause for this overall feeling of sadness.

Healthy brain habits  contribute to reduce the apperance of this condition. It is legitimate to experiment some holiday stress like any other type of emotional temporary stress due to the normal expected extra situations that proper of this time of the year. Family gatherings supose seeing family members for long hours, some relationships are complicated, others wish they could be with their loved ones but can´t due to work, distance or other matters. It shouldn´t become a major problem and if so, it is probably because  there´s an underlying tendency to have negative coping styles.

However, the good news is that through practicing good brain habits one can overcome and deal much better with these symptoms.

  1. Recognize your feelings. It´s okay to feel sensitive. Admitting to your feelings is the first step to recovery.
  2. Accept that traditions may evolve as life changes. This is a time for setting aside differences and expectations.
  3. This will aid the release good chemicals that enhance the “feeling good” in your body. Don´t take this to the level of signing up to the gym. Go for a walk, run up and down the stairs, dance, any physical activity will do it.
  4. Eat healthy. Watch out not getting swayed into bad habits becasue of the holiday. You can treat yourself but it doesn´t mean you have to go on a junk diet for a month. There´s a real corelation between eating healthy and feeling good.
  5. Get a good night sleep and rest. Our brain needs the down time. It is very important to sleep enough and have some calming time. Relaxation routines are short in time and very helpful when running out of enough hours to sleep. Close your eyes for a minute, take a deep breath in and relax until you can feel, hear, and see your favorite surroundings
  6. Watch a comedy movie or series. A good (belly) laugh releases endorphins and pheromones, which will calm you down and make you feel better immediately.
  7. Think positive. Inducing possitive thoughts and learning to visualize the possitive is important. It actually changes the brain.
  8. Start a gratefullness list. Think of all the things that your are gratefull for that took place this year. Think of those you still want to accomplish and divide them into multiple steps to achieve.

Taking responsibility for our brain health is the first step to preventing and dealing with legitimate circumstances specially duirng most vulnerable times.

New Year’s Blues Does the end of the year get you down? By Kathleen Doheny  WebMD Feature

Eric Jensen is a former teacher with a real love of learning. He grew up in San Diego and attended public schools. While his academic background is in English and human development, he has a real love of educational neuroscience. For over 20 years, he has been connecting the research with practical classroom applications.

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