Disability, Depression and the Holidays

Man using wheelchair, playing with dog as part of 'pet therapy
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The holiday season can make individuals feel more compassion towards their fellow man and bring about feelings of happiness and goodwill. Unfortunately, the holidays can also make people feel stressed out and depressed. The high expectations of family harmony, the stress of entertaining or attending get-togethers, and the let down when things don’t go as planned can leave many with negative feelings about the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Feeling Stressed and Depressed

Do you feel depressed during the holidays? If so, you’re not alone. The holidays can be very stressful for anyone, but perhaps more so for a person who is disabled. The reasons for depression can range from something as simple as a lack of sleep to more complicated problems, such as adversarial family relationships. Perhaps you’re dreading a visit with family members because you feel they have been unsupportive; they project the idea that if you’d just follow their advice you would triumph over your disability. Maybe you have a problem saying ‘no’ to all of the invites you receive for parties, and now you’re struggling to get hostess gifts and party outfits together in time.

Effective Communication

Most people don’t have anyone that will sweep in and take over when things get rough; they have to rely on themselves to deal with problems when they arise. One of the biggest problems they may have to deal with is communicating effectively, whether it is with friends, family, co-workers or numerous physicians and specialists.

If you can’t communicate how you’re feeling, you can’t take control of your life.

Some disabled individuals become ‘people pleasers’ because they feel that they have to always be kind and agreeing to those who either care for them or have a reason to place demands on their time. Examples include promising to attend family gatherings and agreeing to work overtime, even when they know they don’t feel well enough to do so.

If you’re one of these people, try letting others know what your availability is for the holidays before the season begins.

SAD and Signs of Depression

Did you know that many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? Individuals who have SAD may feel depressed and sad during the holiday season. While it can occur anytime of the year, it commonly occurs during the winter months. It is also known as the hibernation reaction and the winter blues. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Treatment for seasonal affective disorder includes light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy and medications. Don't brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the "winter blues" or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own.”

Some common signs of depression include the following:

  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Anxiety
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Decreased capability
  • Problems concentrating
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Abusing drugs and alcohol

If you are experiencing any of these signs of depression, it is important to discuss it with your physician.

Asking for help when you’re feeling depressed and overwhelmed shows that you’re a strong person in charge of your own life.

Friends and Family Can Help

Friends and family can assist the disabled by supporting them when they ask for help and by recognizing the signs of depression. They can be a good listener, help them get to counseling sessions or doctor visits, and notice negative behavior, which may require further intervention.

Finally, friends and family members can help by not putting pressure on a disabled individual to participate in every holiday activity on the calendar. While it is good for them to get out and interact with others, too many activities can lead to more stress. By helping them to minimize holiday stress, you’ll be giving them a gift of peace and good health.

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