With the daily to-do list growing frenetically and daylight hours in short supply, feelings of dismay may creep into homes and workplaces this time of year. Holiday blues, sadness and depression are common during this jolliest of seasons.
Dr. Judith O’Jile, a neuropyschologist with the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, says she sees a lot of depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) this time of year. The lack of sunlight during winter months contributes to feelings of depression in some people. Exposure to bright light — phototherapy — and anti depression therapy can help in these cases.
Michael Zieman, director of behavioral health services for Memorial Hospital at Gulfport, says researchers have found that exposure to early morning sunlight is effective in relieving seasonal depression.
“Recent findings, however, suggest that patients respond equally well to phototherapy whether it is scheduled in the early morning or early afternoon,” he said. “This finding about the usefulness of midday light has practical applications for antidepressant treatment since it allows the use of phototherapy in the workplace as well as at home.”
O’Jile says most people have idealized ideas about what should happen during the holiday period, and if things don’t meet the criteria, they feel deprived. “We want it to be like it was when we were children,” she said. “There is no one solution but a whole array of things that can help.”
She recommends being with friends, volunteering to help those less fortunate, enjoying religious experiences, limiting drinking and trying to change expectations. “Things do not have to always be the same. Different is fine,” she said. “We don’t have to do everything. We must decide what the most important things are and do them.”
Dr. O’Jile says for her an important thing is sending holiday cards to people she corresponds with only once a year. For others, it may be baking for neighbors or buying gifts for children.
“Don’t pin all your enjoyment on one day; just enjoy the whole process and appreciate it for what it is,” she said. “It can be such a magical time if we don’t have unrealistic expectations.”
She hastens to add that while it’s good to give tips, anyone feeling really depressed should seek professional help or call a hotline. “There are all kinds of things available that can help.”
Contrary to myth, the holidays are not the highest time for suicides, according to Suzanne Russell with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) in Mississippi. “The highest time for suicides is spring and fall. Bipolar people have more difficulty at that time of year and we don’t know why,” she said. “By the year 2020, depression will be the most commonly diagnosed medical condition of women and children.”
She explains that depression is very undiagnosed in males, mainly because they tend to self-medicate or vent depression through anger and hostility. That’s why the rate of suicide is higher in males.
“They are less likely to go to a doctor to get help, but they might go with a physical ailment,” she added. “There is still a stigma about depression. Some people can’t admit they’re depressed, but they can say they have a stomach ache.”
Russell, parent education coordinator for NAMI, says that unfortunately there are still those who think a depressed person can “just snap out of it or get over it.”
“Our message is that depression or holiday blues are not shame disorders and are not due to character flaws, bad parenting or laziness,” she said. “The good news is that they are treatable and can get better.”
Memorial Hospital’s Zieman says depression in the workplace has become one of America’s most costly illnesses, accounting for over 200 million days lost from work each year, lost productivity and direct treatment costs. He feels it’s important for employers to know the facts and learn to recognize symptoms.
“With early recognition, intervention and support, most employees can overcome clinical depression and pick up where they left off,” he said. “We do supervisory training in the workplace to teach managers how to recognize the signs of depression and to give them some skills. We feel it’s a real value to the public.”
He adds that often a depressed employee will not seek treatment because they fear the effect it will have on their job and they are concerned about confidentiality. Also, many are unaware they have depression or they fear their health insurance is inadequate to cover costs.
Zieman, who also serves as administrator of Memorial Behavioral Health, suggests ten tips for time management to help relieve stress any time but especially during the busy holiday season.
• Make a list, prioritize and check things off as you get them done.
• Review your list from time to time. Is everything on that list necessary?
• Ask yourself, “What’s the best use of my time right now?” Then do it!
• Be willing to sacrifice perfection to get things done.
• Learn to say no to demands that don’t benefit you.
• Whenever possible, delegate.
• Don’t waste time on minor decisions.
• Arrange your work time to keep interruptions to a minimum.
• Be realistic about what you can accomplish during a given period.
• When is your energy at is peak? Plan your work for those times and use your less energetic times for leisure or a nap.
“Not all time management tips work for all people,” he said. “Each person must decide which ones are most helpful for them and they may have some different ones to add to the list.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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