By Amanda Burdette
Carollers sing with delight. Children frolic in the snow. Gingerbread tempts your sweet tooth. The winter holidays make life feel like the wonderland inside a crystal paperweight — at least that’s what’s supposed to happen.
But experts at the University of Maryland say not to be too concerned if life doesn’t sparkle in December. You may have the holiday blues.
“People think there will be peace on earth and that they will have a whole new crack at life. Magical things might happen, but they probably will not,” warns David Mallott, associate professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine.
“If your parents have been divorced for 30 years they will still be divorced” after the holidays, he says. “Reality doesn’t get suspended” during the season; illness in the family or financial hardships don’t disappear.
If the holidays seem overwhelming, Mallott suggests cutting back on the celebrations: “Take a rain check. Tack it on to another holiday or birthday.”
People are expected to want to spend time with their families. But, Mallott observes, “not everyone enjoys being with their family. Sometimes families are artificially thrown together during the holidays.”
And some of these situations are awkward. You might meet an ex-spouse’s new family for the first time. If you know this is going to occur, Geoffrey Greif, associate dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work, says to “try to prepare yourself in advance.”
“Don’t place so much emphasis on one day. If it is an important day for family traditions or rituals, concentrate on establishing new traditions with the people that are in your life,” Greif says.
If your are in a rocky relationship, avoid making any decisions about its status over the holidays, Greif advises. “You shouldn’t make important decisions. Sit back and take a deep breath,” he says, because “the holidays pluck more heart strings.”
The time can also be difficult for elderly people who have lost loved ones or who are in nursing homes. Connie Saltz, associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, says it is important to “not avoid talking about the past. It is what they have to hold on to.”
Older parents “have memories to give” of past holidays and of when the their children were young, she says.
Even where the caregiver role has switched between parent and child, “the parent is always the parent and the child is always the child. The parent should always be dignified and respected,” Saltz says.
If the elderly person has other frail relatives, Saltz suggests including them in festivities. “Take them in as well. They may want to see their brothers and sisters,” she urges.
If the relative lives in a nursing home staff, ask the staff whether there are holiday activities in which you may take part, Saltz suggests.
Whatever your circumstances, if your sadness persists for a couple of weeks and manifests itself in loss of interest in usually fulfilling things, loss of appetite, abnormal sleep and increased drinking, these are signs of depression, experts warn.
Someone with these symptoms should seek attention from a primary care physician, Mallott says. -30-