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Realistic Expectations Help Ward Off Holiday Depression

Enjoying what the season brings means taking things as they come, expert says

MONDAY, Dec. 24 (HealthDay News) -- For many people, heightened expectations, financial and social stress, and memories of lost loved ones can cause tension, anxiety and sadness.

All of that can lead to seasonal blues during the holidays, says an expert at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

For example, people who expect difficult relationships to improve just because it's Christmas are likely to be disappointed.

"In terms of relationships, nothing magical 'just happens' during the holidays," Dr. Mark H. Rapaport, chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai, said in a prepared statement.

"If you don't get along with your in-laws during the year, you're probably not going to get along with them during the holiday season, either. Understanding that before you go to visit them can improve how you'll handle your feelings while you're there," he said.

Planning ahead can help people cope with many sources of holiday-related stress and anxiety.

"If you plan ahead and focus on what you really enjoy about the season, you can spend more time 'living in the moment,' which is the key to getting the most out of each holiday experience," Rapaport said.

He offered some tips for coping with the holidays:

  • Have realistic expectations about interactions with family and friends.
  • Make a list and prioritize activities that you feel are most important.
  • Limit your drinking. Too much alcohol can lead to bad behavior, hangovers, and remorse which, in turn, can lead to depression.
  • Share holiday responsibilities such as shopping, cooking, party planning, and activities.
  • Get regular exercise. Walking for just 30 minutes three times a week can give you a big boost.
  • Keep your holiday spending under control.
  • Eat well, get enough rest, and make time for yourself.
  • Spend time with caring and supportive people and reach out to those who may benefit from your support.
  • Don't worry too much about details. Live in the moment as much as possible and look for meaningful moments throughout the season.

More information

Mental Health America has more about holiday depression and stress.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, news release, December 2007

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