JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —
Christmas standards that flood the airwaves, shopping malls and supermarkets typically paint a joyous, uplifting portrait of the holiday season, but for many people, it’s not the most wonderful time of the year.
The holiday blues can leave one feeling less than jolly.
“Depression and holiday stress can be more common than you think,” said Gina Ramirez, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Mental Health Outreach coordinator. “With the many demands placed on an already busy person, it’s easy to start comparing your emotions to what you think others are experiencing or what you’re supposed to feel and when it falls short, that’s when judgment sets in.”
Money and spending time with family and friends are among the stressors that can lead to depression during the holidays, Ramirez said.
“The pressure to purchase gifts for the whole family, your work crew and friends can seem overwhelming,” she said. “Getting along with family, planning large dinners, making room for extended friends and family to stay over can be a challenge when we are already overburdened with normal day-to-day living.”
Loneliness is another factor, Ramirez said.
“More than 40 percent of Americans report being lonely,” she said. “When we can’t be around our close families during this time of year, it can be tough.”
Emotional upheaval that coincides with the holidays – such as grief, estrangement or divorce – can also contribute to feelings of depression, Ramirez said. For military families, separation by deployment falls into that category.
“Missing loved ones is painful at any time of year, but this time of year when many people celebrate traditions it can be particularly tough,” she said
Unrealistic expectations are yet another stressor, said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Larry Fowler, JBSA-Randolph chaplain.
“Don’t expect your very normal family to suddenly behave like they have just walked out of a Norman Rockwell painting,” he said. “Life and holidays can be messy, so anticipate things being less than perfect. No one who attends your holiday celebrations is perfect; in fact they are quite imperfect, so having realistic expectations will go a long way toward warding off frustration and anxiety. Let yourself enjoy the holidays by accepting the fact that your guest list is made up of very ordinary people who are dearly loved, but also less than perfect.”
Ramirez offered several suggestions to combat the holiday blues.
“The best thing to do is to plan ahead,” she said. “Make plans in advance so you know how and with whom you’ll be spending the holidays. Budget for your gift giving and shop early to avoid the rush of crowds and remember that sometimes the best gifts can be home-made.”
Another strategy is to ask for help.
“Most people take on more than they can handle during this time of year,” she said. “Don’t allow perfectionism to take over and ruin your holiday spirit. Be realistic about what you can take on this season and then stick to those boundaries.”
Ramirez also recommended that people take care of themselves.
“That may mean that you get together with a close friend over coffee or lunch, or spend some time alone and take a warm bath, or read a good book,” she said. Whatever you need to nourish your spirit during this season, do it.”
Her other suggestions are to maintain healthy habits, resisting the temptation to overindulge; avoid isolation by reaching out and volunteering time to those in need; and get professional help if necessary.
Fowler said JBSA’s chapel teams and other helping agencies are here to help.
“Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to be a professional to provide the care and support that someone might need during the holiday season,” he said. “Look around your shop and your neighborhood to see those who might need just a bit of support. Perhaps you can add one more seat at the table at your place over the holidays. It could make a huge difference in someone’s life.”
For people of faith, focusing upon the religious aspect of the holidays elevates the celebration so that it has deep religious, familial and cultural significance for them and their families, Fowler said.
“These faith traditions become part of the fabric of your family’s heritage,” he said. “Parents are encouraged to live out their faith through the traditions of their faith group. Doing so creates a legacy that will foster positive memories of the holidays for our children.”