Newswise — With the holiday season in full swing, many people find themselves battling a form of the “holiday blues.” According to Ronald M. Podell, M.D., a Los Angeles based, board certified psychiatrist who served over 20 years as a clinical faculty member at UCLA, a host of factors produce this well-known phenomenon.
What are the underlying causes, symptoms, and valid treatment options for this syndrome? According to Dr. Podell, who authored the book Contagious Emotions – Staying Well When Your Loved One Is Depressed, there are two different kinds of holiday blues. The first affects those who are alone. These individuals have no nearby relatives or are estranged from their families. They may be new to a community or their friends may lead extremely busy lives or are visiting relatives for the holiday. Internally, they feel isolated and abandoned. The holidays blues hits them hard as they feel singled out and terribly alone. They often wonder if they are unlikeable or emotionally disturbed. The second form, Podell states, “comes from forced reunions with family during the holidays. Such ambivalent reunions often relive the same dysfunctional family relationships that have been operating for decades.”
“When we are young,” Podell explains, “the emotions of traumatic experiences are coded by the brain into neuro-chemical messages and stored in memory nodes. They become a permanent part of the brain--an example of the plasticity of brain function—the brain’s ability to be permanently changed by experience. When something happens that awakens that trauma, whether it is actual or merely symbolic, the memory node is stimulated and the neuro-chemical messages are released.” A person then re-experiences the same emotions that came from the childhood trauma--and the blues set in. The feelings are those of a hurt child and were likely experienced with the same family he now finds himself visiting as an adult.
And, in fact, the very same conversations, behaviors and conflicts can erupt with the speed and destructive intensity that they carried years ago. Often, the entire family is affected and people begin reacting automatically, which generates waves of negative contagious emotions that upsets everyone present. So, in a moment of reunion, many families can experience old pain, dysfunctional automatic behavior, and traumatic recollections of horrible times past. In that sense this form of the holiday blues is not about being alone but being trapped in old trauma.
During the holiday season, consumers are inundated with reminders – from barrages of TV commercials to stores decked out in regal splendor. Cultural myths and expectations tell us we have to go home, we have to forgive even if we were once hurt. Similarly, the same culture tells us that we should feel joyous and merry. What is the message to someone who is depressed, anxious and ambivalent at best about reliving painful memories?
Podell reiterates that these myriad of reminders can be a trigger for unresolved issues such as unsettled grief, disappointment, a sense of isolation and loneliness, and memories of past losses (such as divorce, break up, psychological abuse, death of a family member or relative.) Oftentimes, the holiday blues are a result of unrealistically high expectations of the “perfect holiday,” mixed with memories of holidays past, loved ones no longer present, and the “not so rosy” reality of the current situation. In addition to feelings of gloom, loneliness, depression and anxiety, symptoms of the holiday blues may include the inability to sleep, excessive sleeping, changes in appetite resulting in weight gain or loss, lack of clarity and focus, and decreased interest in activities that bring pleasure.
Treatment Options – According to Dr. Podell, there are many alternative treatments for the holiday blues. Anxiety and depression are usually the chief symptoms that are encountered along with insomnia and restlessness. Podell believes that both biological and psychological approaches to emotional problems are best when combined. He believes that for problems like the holiday blues, education, support, and short term psychotherapy - that helps clarify family dynamics combined with biological treatments that address brain chemistry disequilibrium - can ease the distress a great deal.
Though Dr. Podell is widely renowned both professionally and publicly for his expertise as a psycho-pharmacologist, he prefers safer and less side-effect prone medical devices like the Fisher Wallace Cranial Stimulator (www.fisherwallace.com) for a biological approach to these holiday blues problems. He has prescribed this non–invasive medical device for many of his patients who suffer from such situational depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. The FDA has allowed the device to be marketed for the treatment of depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Dr. Podell, a member of the medical advisory board of Fisher Wallace Laboratories and the Director of the Center for Bio-Behavioral Science in Los Angeles, also states “Patients who use the device have been shown in peer reviewed studies to experience a dramatic increase in serotonin and dopamine production, which are the key neuro-chemicals for regulating mood and sleep.” This device delivers an AC type electrical current to the brain using patented frequencies and can be used at home, without supervision. Other non-medication biological treatments include deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, aerobic exercise at least three times a week, and eliminating excessive alcohol intake.
Dr. Podell also recommends:
· Learning to understand the dynamics of troubling relationships that the holidays bring back into our lives;
· Using the principles he delineates in Contagious Emotions to “defuse” from people who create intensely negative feelings in us or who create feelings of anger, depression and anxiety in our interactions with them;
· Taking responsibility for your part of the interaction and refusing to exacerbate a process that repeatedly leads to despair and anger; be proactive rather than reactive!
· Writing in a journal daily and listing daily reminders of blessings;
· Associating with happy people—surrounding yourself with positive emotions. Findings show that being around upbeat people can boost one’s spirits through mood infection;
· Volunteering and giving back to the community brings generative feelings of spiritual joy; and
· Participating in activities and hobbies that bring pleasure and relaxation.
If you feel the “holiday blues” setting in, think about Dr. Podell’s explanations and identify which type of Holiday blues you are experiencing and then practice the methods he recommends to lower your arousal and distress. And check in with your healthcare provider if you are feeling depressed, anxious, or experiencing insomnia.
About Fisher Wallace Laboratories
Founded in 2007 by Charles Avery Fisher, son of stereo pioneer Avery Fisher, Fisher Wallace Laboratories manufactures the Fisher Wallace Cranial Stimulator, cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES) device cleared by the FDA for the treatment of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Fisher Wallace Laboratories continues groundbreaking research at Harvard Medical School, Columbia University, Massachusetts General Hospital, NYU Medical Center and the University of Toledo. The company offers a full refund should the device not successfully treat a patient’s symptoms within 60 days of receipt.