Tips to avoid the holiday blues

WASHINGTON — The holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day
often makes things worse for people struggling with mental health problems.

“Extra stress, unrealistic expectations and memories of holidays past can
cause many feelings of loneliness, sadness, anxiety and frustration often
known as the ‘holiday blues’,” says psychiatrist Ken Duckworth.

Duckworth, a child and adult psychiatrist with the National Alliance on Mental
Illness, says children and teens can get the holiday blues too, and that the
highest rate for psychiatric hospitalization for kids happens during the
winter.

Sixty-four percent of people diagnosed with a mental illness said the holidays
worsens their conditions, according to a recent NAMI survey. About 24 percent
say the holidays make their condition “a lot” worse; 40 percent say they make
it “somewhat” worse.

“I find lowering my expectations for myself to be a good holiday strategy,”
Duckworth says. “Spending time with people you love and who love you is
important.”

Duckworth tells his own patients, who often struggle this time of year, to
practice good self-care. That means getting enough sleep and exercise and
avoiding alcohol if you’re feeling stressed or feeling down — alcohol is a
depressant.

A change in diet or routine, a reduction in sunlight, a increase in stress or
even the inability to travel to be with family during the holiday can all
trigger the blues, according to NAMI.

Duckworth says the “holiday blues” is not the same as mental illness. The
symptoms of the blues typically last a short time, but can be serious if they
last for more than two weeks.

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