Holiday blues

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(Host) For those of us who may feel overwhelmed instead of jolly this time of year, commentator Nils Daulaire has some practical advice for avoiding the holiday blues.

(Daulaire) It can be tough being a prisoner of Currier and Ives. When the snow is deep and the sky is bright, we Vermonters live in a holiday landscape that other Americans can only dream of. Our back roads and forest trails are the way “over the river and through the woods” that they see in their hearts and minds — and in countless holiday pictures and greeting cards.

But those of us living here know that winter in Vermont isn’t always pretty. As the holiday season heats up, Vermonters face months of grey days and icy nights, dreary shoveling and dangerous roads.

For many, the prospect of another Vermont winter can be downright depressing.

In fact, all across America, December sees the start of an annual outbreak of depression. And it’s not just the prospect of months of scant sunlight — though this deprivation causes some to suffer seasonal affective disorder, itself a major contributor to depression.

No, for most Americans, as for most Vermonters, it’s the commercial, social and emotional climate of the holidays that’s far more stressful than the weather.

There are all those presents to buy, all those ads implying that only Grinches stick to budgets.

There are all those mandatory parties. And you’d better not pout!

And there are those longings for reunion and reconciliation with loved ones, the theme of every Christmas story since Dickens. When we’re away from the people we care the most about – or separated from them by anger and grief – not meeting our own hopes can be hard to bear. And we hark back to the Christmases of our childhoods, which we idealize as perfect even if they weren’t, and we silently mourn what is no more.

Christmas, with its high expectations, can be a very sad time.

It’s no wonder, then, that the National Mental Health Association considers the holiday season second only to the weary tail-end of winter as a peak period for depression.

But to ward off the holiday blues, there are some practical things we can do. Watch out for overeating and excessive drinking – why make yourself feel terrible? A sensible schedule and reasonable limits on shopping and spending help keep expectations down to earth. And for those coping with loss, it’s important to look for today’s small joys.

Forget the grand gestures – the biggest Christmas party, the perfect eight course dinner, the Better Homes and Gardens decorating awards. Remember what that pursuit did to Martha Stewart Replace them with small courtesies, the stocking stuffers of our holiday social discourse. Make others comfortable, and it will help you feel that way.

And finally, accept Vermont for what it gives us. Embrace the cold. Walking, skiing, or snowmobiling, we are obliged to live with the winter world on its own terms. Not a bad model for the holidays. We can pace ourselves, doing our best to enjoy an entire season, rather than make a desperate rush at one impossibly overburdened day.

So have a happy holiday. And – in all senses of the word – chill.

This is Nils Daulaire.

Doctor Nils Daulaire is President of the Global Health Council, headquartered in White River Junction. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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