How to cope when the holidays get tough

Posted: Friday, December 26, 2003

With the stress of shopping for gifts, visiting with family and friends, and in some cases experiencing loneliness or loss from the death of a loved one, holiday depression can creep up unexpectedly.

Local social service organizations advise acknowledging the potential for depression and taking steps to manage it.

Pat Murphy, clinical director at Juneau Alliance for Mental Health Inc., said holiday-related depression and depression due to less daylight in winter can snowball at this time of year.

He sees an increase in depression from both causes. Depression also can be accompanied by anxiety, he said.

"The stresses are magnified around the holidays," Murphy said.

Among the signs of depression are restlessness, difficulty sleeping, a lack of interest, and overeating and undereating, he said.

Murphy said people should be aware that depression isn't unusual and there are ways to get help. A person who is seriously depressed can call the emergency room at Bartlett Regional Hospital and receive a referral to JAMHI, the community mental health center, which offers emergency services at any time.

Those less seriously depressed also can call JAMHI to arrange for help.

Mary Kyle, a certified hospice and palliative care nurse at Hospice and Home Care of Juneau, said the holidays can be especially difficult for those who have recently lost a loved one.

Hospice and Home Care provides personal care assistance, nursing services, occupational therapy and other services.

Acknowledging that you might experience depression and taking steps to deal with it can prevent it from taking you by surprise, she said.

"Typically when a holiday approaches and you had a loss, that's really when it's going to hit you," she said.

Jamie McLean, a social worker with Hospice and Home Care, said those dealing with a loss should take time to connect with the things they appreciate about the lost loved one and about their own lives.

But they must allow themselves to feel sadness as well as joy, McLean said.

"You can't pretend to be happy," she said. "I think that by just saying 'I feel sad' at this time and allowing someone just to hear it and not asking them to fix it ... just sitting and sharing with them can be a great gift for both people."

Hospice recommendations for dealing with the loss of a loved one during the holidays include:

• Talking with loved ones who will listen without judgment.

• Reserving a special time each day for yourself. Busy work, instead of distracting from your grief, may actually increase stress and postpone the need to talk out thoughts and feelings related to your grief.

• Accept that your grief may take time and energy, and that you may not be at your peak during the holidays.

• Talk about a loved one who has died in your holiday conversations to help others recognize the importance of that person in your life.

• Decide which traditions you will continue and which ones you would like to begin anew.

• Take time to look inward and assess your life and to define the positive aspects of your life.

• Surround yourself with loving, caring people.

For more information on bereavement services contact Hospice and Home Care of Juneau at 463-3113. Juneau Alliance for Mental Health Inc. can be reached at 463-3303. Those who are considering suicide should contact the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-SUICIDE.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at Empire reporter Eric Fry contributed to this story.

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