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Beat the Winter Blues

How to bring joy to your world this holiday season

The holidays are supposed to be joyful, but sometimes stress turns the season into a psychological assault of emotions, loneliness and conflict.

Tahseen Mohammed, MD, chairman of the division of psychiatry at Northwest Community Healthcare offers advice on how to hit holiday stressors head-on.

Stressor: Unrealistic expectations

Solution: Approach each year as a new opportunity. "Don't go back to the past and expect everything to be the same. Things change—people change—every year," Dr. Mohammed says. "Live in the moment. That will be more fun."

Stressor: Difficult people

Solution: Stay neutral and hit the pause button on past conflicts. Taking the initiative to keep conflict at bay can go a long way toward peace on earth—or at least peace around the dinner table. "Remember, the people you don't get along with might be having the same feelings, too. They might welcome your efforts to avoid conflict."

Stressor: Loneliness

Solution: Make an intentional effort to connect with others. "Reach out to friends or family members. Tell them how you feel—let it out rather than holding it in," Dr. Mohammed says, adding that volunteerism can also help you capture the holiday spirit and get outside your isolation or sadness.

Stressor: Unbudgeted time and finances

Solution: "There are so many events and costs that come up. You have to learn to say 'no,' otherwise you end up saying 'yes' to things you don't want to do or spending money you don't have. You just end up feeling guilty and more stressed."

Beyond 'Winter Blues'

Sometimes, the shorter days and limited sunlight in winter months can trigger seasonal depression. And sometimes, the sorrow over a lost loved one or other holiday stressors trigger clinical depression. If you notice any of these signs, seek professional help:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Increased irritability
  • Feelings of sadness or emptiness
  • Low energy or loss of interest in activities
  • Isolation from family and friends

"These are signs to take seriously," Dr. Mohammed says, "especially if thoughts of self-harm or escaping the stress are coming to mind."

Malcolm Bilimoria, MD

Tahseen Mohammed, MD

Chairman of the Division of Psychiatry at NCH

  • Internship and residency: University of Chicago Medical Center
  • Fellowship: University of Illinois Hospital
  • Board-certified: Psychiatry; child and adolescent psychiatry

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Last Updated 04/10/2009