While holiday songs and television shows are suggesting that everyone should be having a grand time during this season of the year, many are feeling isolation, guilt, anger or anxiety. Such feelings may be evidence of holiday depression, according to a local expert.
“A preoccupation with guilt or anger is a red flag,” said Bent Jones, bereavement coordinator and certified grief recovery specialist at Crossroads Hospice in Tucker. Lack of energy, trouble concentrating and wanting to stay isolated are other behaviors of those suffering from depression, as well as sleeping too much or not enough, he said.
“Anxiety is the other side of depression,” Jones continued. “After a death, people may have panic attacks that may affect their daily lives. Some people have regrets or second guess decisions, wishing they had done some things differently. Someone else may think they’re being hard on themselves, but to the person suffering, it’s very real.”
Much of the season is spent with family and friends, continuing established traditions or building new ones. It’s a time that evokes memories—good ones and bad ones—thus is ripe for the onset of depression, according to Jones.
Grieving times vary, depending on the type of loss, but Jones said in his work with people after a death, “many times they get better in six months to a year. People usually hit bottom about three months after a death. There’s gradual improvement, and after two years some people may not be back to their old selves, but they are functioning.”
While depression has no racial, age, or gender boundaries and children deal with death differently from adults, the elderly are high-risk group for depression, Jones explained. “Among the elderly are many with declining health, limited social opportunities, and they’re facing mortality,” he added.
“Definitely seek help if sadness is affecting your work life or responsibilities to your family,” Jones advised, noting that such behavioral changes as increased drinking or long periods without bathing also are signs that a person should get help.
“Depression loves isolation,” he continued. “Do everything not to be isolated. Accept as many invitations as possible, or attend support groups.” Jones recommended staying connected to friends, church and community. “Isolation is easy to slip into.”
When mingling with others is not enough, Jones said, there are other activities that can help combat depression. “Exercise is about the single best thing to do, or participate in a support group, and even seeing a counselor who understands,” he said.
Jones suggested first going to see a doctor, in case a referral to a psychiatrist is necessary. “There are public health agencies and low co-pays for counseling,” he added. “Keep an open mind about medicine. There are anti-depressant drugs with few, if any, side effects.
“There’s a lot of stress during the holidays. Simplify things,” Jones recommended. Instead of trying to cook a big holiday meal, “order a turkey or have pizza,” he said.
Jones also offers a “Holiday Griever’s Bill of Rights.” Included in the list are: a right to say “time out”; the right to do things differently; the right to have some fun; The right to change a decision when you need to; and a right to rest, peace and solitude.