Beating that Ho Ho Holiday Stress

The holiday lights, the music and the songs are here in full swing but not everyone is happy to see the holidays approaching, and according to Shore Physicians Group Internist, Dr. Ulices Perez, some people can be downright sad during the holidays and he had some suggestions for what families might do to help their loved ones cope with the season.

Perez said for many, the level of joy at the holidays is directly affected by their life conditions. He spoke of a recent patient who said they often experience sadness at the holidays. To understand his patient, Perez said he wanted to learn more about the root cause of his problem. “Speaking with my patient’s wife I learned that he was an only child and orphaned when he was very young and never had any brothers or sisters in his life and that around the holidays that joyful and sharing part of his life was missing. Later he had his own family but now that they are all grown and he does not get to see them as often as he would like, it really bothers him around the holidays.”

Perez said there are so many things to celebrate and to be joyful about at holiday time that include spending time with family and friends. In so many cultures, the holidays mark party time but for some, but at the same time the arrival of the cold weather along with the holidays trigger depression. “Seasonal depression is a real thing. There are patients who have difficulties as the days get shorter. Basically it is the lack of exposure to the sun,” said Perez. “They are missing the stimulus of the melatonin and they are finding themselves less energetic and will often not have the drive to do more. It might be 4 p.m. and they may want to take a nap rather than start something new.”

The physician said he tells his patients the first thing they need to do is expose themselves to things that normally bring them joy. “You need to go to the mall, walk around, take in the sights and sounds all around and force yourself into increased physical activity. While some patients might complain at first, once they start to increase their activity level they will begin to feel better,” said Perez. “You have to keep doing things that make you feel better.”

But Dr. Perez warned of red flags that signal the person will need more to cope with their feelings. “When it’s not just a seasonal mood disorder, when a person experiences definite changes then it is time to look for help,” said Perez. “When a person is unable to sleep, they are anxious and stressed, that is not just a seasonal type of depression that they need to sit down and talk to their doctor about. I tell family members to look for red flags like the person takes no joy in the things that they have normally enjoyed, for example if a person enjoyed watching TV and all of a sudden will not even watch something on the TV you should note that and discuss that with your doctor. We are getting more pro-active and pre-screen patients who may be at a greater risk for depression. That depression in the elderly is even greater according to Perez. “Their kids are gone, they are often living alone and they are lonesome. Depression in the elderly is significantly more common than people might think.

As for dealing with the stress of the holidays, Perez noted that some of that is a creation of our society. “We have people spending a lot of money and possibly buying things that they do not need out of a kind of pressure because others are doing it and it is the holidays. I remind people not to fall into that trap as it will only create more problems.”

Dr. Ulices Perez is a member of Shore Physicians Group with offices located at 9710 Ventnor Ave. in Margate, call 609-822-4800 and also Harbor Village Shopping Plaza, 501 Zion Rd. Egg Harbor Township, call 609-927-8069.