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‘Tis the season to be … SAD?

December 7, 2013
By C. Paul Martin, M.D. , Marshall Independent

While greeting some people in a local store last week on the day before Thanksgiving, I noticed that most of the shoppers were generally pleasant and happyperhaps a bit more outgoing than usual. The personal atmosphere was similar to that seen at the Minnesota State Faireven before the food feasting begins! This month before Christmas often brings out the best aspects of people's personalities as they enjoy the "holiday spirit."

But such a feeling is not universal in our culture, and a portion of our society often finds this "holiday" time difficult and challenging.

A brief conversation with a Marshall businessman initiated my thoughts of today's seasonally related column.

In a brief exchange of ideas, he related his awareness of being overwhelmed at times by the pace and responsibilities of the holiday season, a condition which seemed to him to peak during the first two weeks of December. I shared my recognition of similar conditions which I had noticed in patients and evidenced in my personal experiences.

A review of this condition and its related concerns, anxiety and depression, may be helpful to all of us as we encounter the opportunities and trials of the next few weeks of the season. "The holiday blues" is usually an important but transient condition which demands our attention.

Depression is a very common affective or mood disorder which is sometimes unappreciated, often transient or short-lived, and usually responsive to the passage of time, simple treatments, or, at times, medications. The Merck Manual, a modern "Home Medical Advisor," defines this situation well in stating: "Transient depression ("blues") may occur as a reaction to certain holidays or significant anniversariesSuch reactions are not abnormal, but persons predisposed to depression may be [afflicted] during such times."

Depression and/or anxiety/depression in its more severe forms can be a serious medical illness requiring specific medications and psychiatric consultation. Its treatment often requires more than "self-help." Notably, Seasonal Affective Depression (SAD) is often a problem during the winter months, but it can be a more serious and chronic illness. It has been the subject of past columns.

Generally, in helping people with situational or transient depression, an appreciation and recognition of the illness by the patient, family and friends and a caring and friendly interest and conversation can be the most therapeutic modalities. Gently educating an involved individual about the condition of the "holiday blues" may be greatly helpful.

Most of us feel we are the only ones who are sad because we have lost a friend or relative who used to be a part of our holiday celebration or have undergone another type of loss; yet everyone else seems to be so happy. The local and world situation, magnified by 24-hour news networks and "talking heads," may lead to our thinking only of the less pleasant aspects of our lives such as the responsibilities, deadlines, and unmet needs of the holiday times. The hustle and bustle of this season, superimposed upon our frenetic daily schedules, may shut out the good news of this special time. How often we race to write our Christmas greetings, but then do not take the time to enjoy the missives sent to us relating the happy news of the lives of our friends and relatives.

Many people have had the experience believe that the best therapy for the "holiday blues" has been directing our efforts away from self-orientation, recrimination, and self-pity to rewarding positive efforts directed toward others, often on a one-to-one basis.

For example, is there someone in your family, your neighborhood, or in a nursing home who would enjoy a holiday visit and or a food item? Family and friends who are hospitalized or live in a residential/long term care facility appreciate a visit during this season.

Perhaps your church or social group needs your help at this busy holiday season, and the local food shelf would appreciate your donation. Multiple agencies at this time can use volunteer help in completing their mission.

Remember the poignant lessons of the ghosts of Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" and the good feelings which its message engenders in us.

Whether the positive message is coming from yourself, your family, each other, social agencies, Bethlehem or another religious source, take time to appreciate the spirit and direction of this holiday season and optimize its beneficial effects to all of us.

May all of you enjoy a Blessed Christmas, holiday season and peaceful New Year!



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