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Keeping holiday cheer this time of year

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

Anyone could get the holiday blues, especially if he or she has lost a job or things just aren’t quite right. “But this year, it could be even worse because of the turbulent economy,” said Debra Wentz, chief executive officer of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health Agencies, Inc.


Stress during the winter holidays is commonly related to having unrealistically high expectations, Wentz said. “It is vitally important for everyone to take steps to manage their stress levels, which can greatly impact both mental and physical health.”

One of every four residents has a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, which can be exacerbated during the holiday season and further intensified in reaction to financial stress, mental health professionals say.

Regardless of the time of year or the economy, it is critical to manage mental and physical health, recognize signs of mental illness and seek help when needed.

Stress can be reduced by managing what can be controlled. For example, expenses, such as gifts and entertainment, can be reduced. Healthy practices, such as exercising, eating right and getting enough sleep, are also helpful in managing stress, in addition to offering many physical health benefits, professionals say.

Stress and depression can also be related to increased use of alcohol or drugs, especially for individuals who are in the early stages of recovery from addictions. The holidays, with the accompanying stress or social more situations, can also lead to increased drug or alcohol use, professionals say.

Professional help may be needed if any of the following signs become evident:

– persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood;
– changes in sleep patterns;
– reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain;
– loss of pleasure and interest in once-enjoyable activities;
– restlessness or irritability.

It is important to realize that most of these symptoms also indicate holiday blues, professionals say. However, holiday blues will dissipate when the season ends and people return to daily routines and no longer experience holiday-related stress. By contrast, depression is indicated by these symptoms lasting for two weeks or longer.

This article is adapted from ” Coping With Life ,”   Tom Davis’s blog.

Tom Davis is a North Jersey Media Group reporter who wrote                ”  Coping”   — one of the nation’s only mental health columns — for The Record newspapers for five years. He was named ”  Citizen of the Year””   in 2007 by the American Psychiatric Association’s New Jersey chapter. He also teaches journalism at Rutgers University. He was one of six people in the nation to win the Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellowship in 2004. Check out his website for more information or send an email to tddink@hotmail.com.

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