Self Help Now: A community blog

Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade offers ideas for maintaining your mental health.

Holiday Spirit vs. Holiday Blues and Research

Written by Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade, Community blogger | Dec 13, 2013 3:07 PM

Watch out for psychological research!

NPR had a little report today about winter, including the holiday season, NOT correlating especially positively with depression. However, the cold and busy season does correlate possitively with pressure and stress, the studies cited admit. However, suicides are down then and teenage self-reports (not parents' reports) are down, too. Admittedly, NPR acknowledges that some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder, so they're especially depressed in the winter.

Research is specific to very small variables, such as how depression (or anything, even winter or holidays) are defined, who are the subjects of the study (like college students, so often), where they are (like Finland, where they're used to cold and dark), who's doing the research and what they decide to look for and how they analyze the results and more.... Also, research tells about groups and the variation within any group is almost always greater than the average difference  between that group and any other group. For example, laborers as a group may be less educated than college students but within the group of laborers there are people who are as or even more educated than college students. I'm not saying to ignore all research, just to use it as food for thought and consider it as partial information, before applying it to anyone specifically.

As for yourself, you know yourself better than any study or doctor does. If the holidays excite you and please you, all the better. If they trigger bad memories, lousy comparisons, and insecurity, you know that you need special pampering and understanding at this time. Go with your gut as to what will help you. If you're overwhelmed, realize that most of what you think you "have" to do isn't really necessary. Some people don't decorate or give presents. It's OK. If you're lonely, seek out people to help or some group with whom you can hang, whether it's a church or cafe or a virtual online group. People-watching can be comforting or not, depending on your thoughts. If you're angry or frustrated, you might want to write or talk it out, exercise or distract yourself with an activity, even something incongrous, like reading, swimming or watching non-holiday movies, instead of shopping and cooking. Or, you can just feel and meditate your way through it. Whatever works.

And, if you're enjoying the colors, lights, gifting, cards, music, etc., please don't feel guilty that some people aren't. It's your job to give the holiday it's proper spirit.

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