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Holiday blues a common malady

December 17, 2001

As Americans cope with losses this season, the holiday spirit may be clouded by anxiety and stress for many, reports the National Mental Health Association.

Wellness Assistant Melissa Lyons says stressors found in normal holiday activities may seem especially overwhelming this year: "Travel and finance are two stressors already present during holiday time but that are intensified in light of recent tragedies. People may not feel safe to travel, yet they want to see family and friends. Unless coped with appropriately, this can lead to feelings of isolation, loss of control, frustration and even anger.

The answer may lie in seeking out new experiences to mark the holidays. The quest can start with a question: "What new and interesting traditions can we create to take the focus away from what we aren't doing and where we aren't going?"

This creativity also is critical regarding finances. "It would be nice to see less value placed on expensive gifts and more value given to those priceless intangibles such as time, love, prayers and memories," Lyons says.

She recommends setting aside time to grieve: "People place enormous, unrealistic expectations on themselves. They feel they should be overjoyed and excited at all times during the season. But, in light of all that has happened, they need to give themselves permission to feel sad. The key is to take control by setting a specific amount of time to experience these emotions, then move on and focus on more positive thoughts."

Lyons says coping during the weeks after the holidays is equally important: "I imagine the hard part this year, especially for those directly affected by the terrorist attacks, will be after the holidays have passed. When everyone has gone home, the gifts have been given and they are left alone with their grief and loss.

Visiting with friends during the season is a good idea, Lyons says, but those visits might be better timed for after the holiday. "It may actually mean more to visit others after the holidays in what I call 'no man's land,' the period after Christmas and New Year's when the dust has settled and everyone else has their daily routines."