SPRINGFIELD – 'Tis the season to be stressed. But if you are, know that you are not alone.
"Some of us simply cannot live up to the often unreal expectations of the perfect holiday as portrayed in movies, television and magazines," Dr. Benjamin Liptzin, chair, Department of Psychiatry, Baystate Health, said.
"The general assumption is that we are supposed to feel happy and close to our family during the holidays, but that just isn't the case for everyone," he said.
Liptzin noted that the term "holiday depression" that persons often read or hear about at this time of year is not a specific diagnosis.
"Holiday depression is not an illness but persons may experience a sullen feeling around the holidays for a number of reasons," he said.
Liptzin noted that the recent loss of a loved one, the inability to afford presents, and family stresses may contribute to a "blue Christmas."
The Baystate psychiatrist said that you can have a bad day and feel down once in a while, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you're under the spell of depression.
He said people should consider seeking professional help if they are experiencing several of the following symptoms of clinical depression: depressed mood, trouble sleeping, appetite loss, loss of concentration, crying spells, suicidal feelings, fatigue, and loss of interest in routine activities.
"If you are experiencing several of these symptoms for more than a week and you find that they are beginning to interfere with your job and everyday life, you should have a professional evaluation," Liptzin said.
But depression isn't something just adults may experience during the holidays.
"Depression is highly prevalent in adolescents and can be triggered by stress during the holiday season," Dr. Barry Sarvet, vice chair, Department of Psychiatry, and chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Baystate Health, said.
"In addition to the many symptoms of clinical depression that adults may feel, children and adolescents may exhibit symptoms of irritability and negative behavior associated with their depression. This can often make it more difficult for their parents to recognize the suffering from the young person's point of view," Sarvet said.
There is reason for hope, however.
"Depression is common and treatable. About 80 percent of depression cases are helped with psychotherapy or antidepressant medication," Liptzin noted.
For a referral to a physician, call Baystate Health Link at 794-2255 or outside the Springfield calling area at 1-800-377-4325.
As for the stress of the holiday season – from shopping to baking and from visiting relatives to trying to make everyone happy – deep breathing will help you to focus and compose yourself.
Also, try several preventive strategies such as eating right, reducing your caffeine or alcohol intake, participating in regular physical activity, practicing daily relaxation techniques, and getting enough sleep to help you better handle those extra stresses that may occur, especially during the holidays.
Also, remember during the hectic times to take a minute to laugh. According to researchers, laughter is a great medicine to relieve stress because:
• it improves breathing by allowing the lungs to expand and take in more oxygen;
• it reduces blood pressure by improving circulation and speeding delivery of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body;
• it heightens mental function by increasing delivery of oxygen and production of a hormone that improves alertness and memory;
• it helps to relieve pain by increasing delivery of oxygen and the level of endorphins, the pain-killing chemicals produced by the brain.
So, take a minute when you are tired and stressed, and have a good, old-fashioned belly laugh. You will feel better and get a great energy boost.
For more information on Baystate Health, visit www.baystatehealth.org