Guarding against post-holiday depression important at this time of the year

Posted: Jan. 4, 2013 9:32 pm Updated: Jan. 25, 2013 10:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

For most, nostalgic feelings -- or the wistful desire to look back at an earlier time in life -- bring a sense of joy and contentment.

For others, those sentiments can trigger emotional red flags like depression and related issues, especially around this time of the year.

While the holidays are notorious for such emotional distress for those who have lost loved ones, had a marriage crumble or are simply growing older, the days and weeks immediately following the Thanksgiving and Christmas periods can also pose a problem.

The sense of being alone, especially for an older adult or an individual recovering from a failed relationship, can be heightened at a time when others are returning to their post-holiday life filled with family and friends.

Dealing with the memories of happier times can be borderline devastating for some, both during and following Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

"The holidays tend to bring some that nostalgia back," said Quincy therapist Jerry Walker.

Working through those kinds of situations can seem like an overwhelming task to the individual, Walker said. A key, however, is dealing with the loss of a loved one or part of your life -- or an entirely different issue -- in increments, not necessarily as a single, emotionally devouring problem.

"Breaking down the problem into smaller pieces does not make it seem so overwhelming," Walker said.

Ed Esselman of Esselman Counseling Services in Quincy said he stresses to individuals suffering from depression -- or teetering toward it -- to gradually take control of their situation. Esselman said he tries to emphasize that simply because a person "is alone" does not mean something is wrong with him or her.

"Most people assume everyone has a circle of friends or family, and that's not necessarily true," Esselman said. "If you're alone, reach out and call someone, or volunteer. It helps you get around people.

"When you're alone, your thinking can get really negative and begin to feel like ‘something is wrong with me.' Being around others can help with that kind of thinking.

"You can also go out -- by yourself. Treat yourself to a movie or a meal," Esselman said. "It begins to help you handle some of life's situations by yourself."

Esselman says he also tries to have individuals who are struggling take an objective look at their expectations. Some, he said, tend to feel they should be happy all day, every day -- or that something is wrong with them if they feel otherwise.

"To be full of joy 24 hours a day, seven days a week is unrealistic," he said.

Barb Baker-Chapin of Transitions of Western Illinois says it is important for everyone to have "something to look forward to."

"It's important to create those kinds of things," she said. "We encourage people to create things to do, plan some things (ahead of time) for after the holidays ... something they can look forward to doing."

Baker-Chapin said all should guard against post-holiday depression.

"For most, there is a letdown after the holidays after being busy with your family and friends," she said. "It probably affects all of us in some way."