Holiday blues

What’s not to like about the holidays?  Gift-giving, smiling shoppers, happy vacationers, pretty decorations on homes and downtown, and a fresh coat of white draping the Yampa Valley.

The fact is, the holiday season is not a time for joy, happiness, and celebration for everyone.  It can bring feelings of loneliness, melancholy, and depression, even for some people whose moods are fairly stable the rest of the year.  Understanding why this happens, can make you better equipped to head off a potential problem.

First, there’s the usual (but worthwhile) advice, regardless of personal circumstances:

  • Watch what you consume. All those holiday treats and munchies can and will affect you.  There’s more sugar, alcohol, and calories at your fingertips than throughout the rest of the year.  Just like kids, overdoing it will give you the sugar highs...and letdowns.  Drinking too much brings its own morning-after regrets.  And then you have the guilt and worry when you step on the scales.  Pace yourself.  Enjoy, but be mindful.
  • Unrealistic expectations.  We’re inundated with merchandising and media hype about what the holidays are ‘supposed’ to be: cheery, gift-laden families and couples delighting one another with their thoughtfulness and generosity.  Yes, this happens, but it’s also a Madison Avenue image.  If you buy it, you’re at risk of feeling left out, inadequate, or somehow cheated of what we think everyone else is getting.  Get real.  Enjoy what you have and who you’re with. 
  • Lack of activity. Because most people get time off from work -- a day or more -- they may see the holidays as a stay-put, camp-on-the-couch time of vegetative self-indulgence. This can be a big mistake.  After some family chatter, a couple of TV football games, more ‘relating’, the big meal, a nap, a phone call or two from the folks, etc., it’s normal to feel tired and loggy.  Work in a walk, a little cross-country skiing, or at least a drive to Hahn’s Peak.  Fresh air.  A little exercise.
  • Guard against over-stimulation.  We tend to over-anticipate, worry about details, and get hyped up when the Big Day (and people) finally arrives. This can kindle depressive or manic symptoms.  Stay centered.  Stay mellow.  And while you may love the people you gather around you, they can get tiresome (and sometimes, old family tensions crop up).  Be careful about too much of a good thing.

Next, there’s some special considerations for those who find themselves relatively new to the Yampa Valley:

  • Design your day.  Many people are not rooted in this area, and ‘family’ may be in Texas or New Hampshire or Chihuahua.  Since Christmas or Hanukkah are filled with childhood memories, it’s natural to miss them now (especially when working the evening shift at La Montana).  Anticipate this, and design the holiday your way.  Go ice skating with a friend, or get a couple of other ‘Boat people over for a little feast and fun, or volunteer to serve a holiday meal at the Community Center.  Don’t let the day find you home alone, wishing you were there.
  • Know what’s happening.  Failure to plan may leave you sitting home, staring at a re-run of It’s A Wonderful Life.  If you don’t look for options, it’s likely to happen.  Check out the Steamboat Pilot’s Happenings, Scene, and Venue sections (or similar in the Craig Daily Press) for ideas.  Ask your workmates what they’re planning, for ideas (and an invitation?).
  • Share the wealth.  If you’re part of the economic engine that drives the Steamboat, you’re probably working on or around the holidays and may be providing services to tourists.  Remind yourself that most of these visitors have planned this vacation for a long time, and you (lucky guy) live here!  Be on top of your game with them, adding to their holiday fun.  Whether you get thanked for your friendliness or help is not the key; this is a time of giving.  Share what you have to give.

And finally, here are some thoughts for those who associate this time of year with a personal loss:

  • Embrace it.  If the joys of the holidays seem to have gone away since ___________ (fill in the blank): A) he/she died; B) the relationship ended; C) the accident; or D) something else..., then recognize your special vulnerability and manage it.  Expect some tears, and when they come, honor those feelings.  Cry, talk about it, write in your journal, or otherwise open the door to your emotions.  DON’T fight them.  This is a part of your life -- but not your life.  Give it expression, and when the tears dry, feel good about it.  You haven’t forgotten. 
  • Partition your day.  Make sure you have something planned that will keep you from being swallowed up by your sad thoughts.  A little outing with a friend?  A 6 PM movie (buy the ticket now!) at the Chief Plaza?  A dinner reservation at Dutch Creek?  Point is, you’ve got to have something inked in to keep you from becoming consumed by your gloom.
  • Start new traditions.  If the past overwhelms you at the holiday season, it’s time to start your own traditions.  Just because you have fond memories for what used to be, doesn’t mean those ways are cast in stone.  Design your New Day, with a couple of things that sound like fun.  Dog-sledding? (there are 2 companies in the Yampa Valley).  Scrabble tournament? (put an ad in the Pilot; you’ll get takers). Bring a couple of gifts to the Doak Walker Care Center or The Haven?  Then next year, you’ll be clear about what you did that you want to do again.

All of us need to remember: there is no picture-perfect holiday.  Some years gone by may have been better, and some of the years to come will be better, too.  This year, well, it’s really up to you.  Make it what you want it to be.

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