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Turn the holidays to red & green (even when you’re blue)

By JOANNE RAE M. RAMIREZ, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 21, 2021 5:00 am

The holidays are not magic,” stuns Dr. Geraldine Frances “Geri” Mayor, a psychiatrist with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and a diplomate in Psychiatry. I say “stuns” because she probably is speaking like the child in the fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

Honestly.

This mental health professional is pointing out that, yes, while expectations are that the streets are full of people singing Jingle Bells, many are crying Blue Christmas.

During a webinar on mental health aptly titled, “When Christmas is Blue instead of Red and Green,” hosted by Joy Ortega and co-presented by the Makati Medical Foundation, a participant asked Dr. Geri, “Bakit nga ba mas ‘emo’ ang mga tao ‘pag Pasko? Makarinig lang ng Christmas songs, tumutulo na ang luha ko. (Why are people more emotional during Christmas? I would just hear a Christmas song and the tears would start to fall.)”

 

“Okay, first, your mind has already assigned meaning to the song,” replied Dr. Geri. “So, I don’t know maybe you heard the song with someone very special to you? Are they gone? Have they left you? What was the nature of your parting?  So, the song reminds you of something that was meaningful for you, that you either miss or either brings you sad memories. Now, the question is, can you switch to songs that remind you of good memories? 

“But once again, it’s not bad to feel sad. Because sadness, sometimes, especially if it’s related to the death of a loved one, it’s just the flip side of love. If your sadness is because you’re missing someone who’s not with you anymore for the holidays, what you’re experiencing is actually love, love you weren’t able to express to that person. So, accept that you’re sad and then find songs that make you smile and give you happy memories.”

“Songs evoke emotions, but the emotions are coming from different aspects of our life. So that’s why at the end of the day, you sit down and you ask yourself, why did the song make me sad? And as you find out what’s making you sad, then you decide what the next course of action will be,” pointed out Dr. Geri during the webinar.

“Always examine the meaning you assign to things. The meaning will determine how you feel afterwards.”

Some signs of the holiday blues include feeling sad, angry, lonely and losing sleep.

Dr. Geri, speaking live to the Philippine audience from New Jersey, was then asked by one member of the online audience, consisting mostly of frontliners,  “How do you know that you’re depressed? When does one seek help?”

What causes holiday blues in what is supposed to be the happiest time of the year? Citing studies, Dr. Geri says: Hectic schedule, multiple activities, family encounters, overeating, financial stress, fear of disappointing others, and bad memories.

“You have to have the symptoms for at least two weeks. And you have to have at least five of the symptoms (of depression), which include you feeling depressed more days than not. You have sleep disturbance, either sleeping too much or sleeping too little. You have changes in appetite, either eating too much, eating too little. You have feelings of guilt. You blame yourself. And then you can’t focus at work. And then you start feeling like you’re a burden to others. You may even develop suicidal thoughts. That’s the classic depression.

“There’s even agitated depression where you’re irritable. You’re always angry and you avoid people. You withdraw. So if it’s going on for more than two weeks, and then the people around you already notice it, and then your work is suffering, you may need intervention,” Dr. Geri explained in Joy Ortega’s online show Better Today Conversations.

Holiday blues

What are some signs of the holiday blues during the holidays themselves? Citing studies, Dr. Geri said, “You’re feeling sad, angry, lonely and can’t sleep.”

After the holidays, the blues include: You’re feeling let down, disappointed, frustrated, and physically and emotionally drained.

How to manage the holiday blues? Talking and sharing with others, rest, sleep and relaxation. Dr. Geri also suggests limiting one’s alcohol intake and sticking to one’s budget.

What causes holiday blues in what is supposed to be the happiest time of the year? Again citing studies, Dr. Geri says these are some of the causes of holiday blues: Hectic schedule, multiple activities, family encounters, overeating, financial stress, fear of disappointing others and bad memories.

After the holidays, the blues may come because of the slower pace one experiences. One is suddenly alone, may have experienced weight gain, physical and emotional strain and harbor left-over feelings of disillusionment.

How to manage the holiday blues? Dr. Geri, who graduated from the UP College of Medicine, recommends: Talking and sharing with others, rest, sleep and relaxation. She also suggests limiting one’s alcohol intake and sticking to one’s budget.

“Don’t be afraid to say NO. Be realistic. Accept your true feelings. Exercise. Do volunteer work and engage in altruism.”

The good thing is, holiday blues are “temporary and transitory.” “Simple interventions help,” she adds.

“If these persist for weeks, more attention is needed and you must consider professional treatment,” she told the webinar participants.

Dr. Geri says therapy can be free and shared this link.

Sleep, sweet sleep

Dr. Geri wants us to be wide awake to the benefits of sleep. She shared some basics of “Sleep hygiene.”

“Your bedroom should be a place only for two things. It should only be for sleep and for sex. Don’t bring your work to bed. Don’t bring your computer to bed. Don’t watch TV in bed. Your brain needs a signal that it’s time to shut down. So ideally, it’s a dark room. It should just be a comfortable bed that you want to lie on. And the body should know that when you lie down, that’s a signal for it to shut down.

Sleep is the only time a human being is totally free of negative emotion.

“You need to train the brain to shut down when you lie down. Now, if you lie down, and then you watch TV, or you play with a computer, your brain is saying am I supposed to shut down, or should I stay awake to listen to the TV? So no TV in bed, no computer in bed, no phone in bed. If you decide to sleep, your phone should be on silent. It’s like you’re not waiting for phone calls.

“Next, take the clock away from the bedroom. But if you need to set the alarm, you can hear the alarm. Because when you’re conscious of the time, it increases your anxiety.”

“Another thing, don’t take your worries to bed. If you go to bed and start thinking about everything, get up, do something. And then after you’re done with your worrying, that’s the time you lie down. This is what I do before I step in my bedroom, I talk to myself and I say: ‘Worries, stay out of the bedroom! I’ll be back to see you in the morning.’

“Just remember your worries are not going away. Nothing is going to be solved at night. So you might as well leave them outside the bedroom, worry about them when you wake up, but get some sleep.

“Sleep is the only time a human being is totally free of negative emotion. If someone has chronic pain, for the time they’re asleep, they don’t experience pain. If you’re going through depression and excessive guilt, when you’re asleep, that’s the only time you’re free of those emotions. So sleep is very, very important.”

Feeling better already?