Rehab Insights is a weekly blog written by Burke Rehabilitation professionals to offer practical information for patients, families and the community. Its goal is to educate the reader on relevant topics in rehabilitation, general health and wellness.

Dealing With Depression During the Holidays

If store displays and TV ads are any indication, the holiday season is officially underway. And while it is a time of joy and togetherness, for some—particularly those impacted by an illness or injury—the holidays aren’t always a happy time.

 “Particularly during the first holiday season after having suffered a major illness, both patients and family members can have a difficult time adjusting to changes in routines around holiday traditions due to changes in cognitive skills, mobility challenges or ongoing medical fragility,” says Julieanne Shulman, Psy.D., Chief of Rehabilitation Psychology and Neuropsychology at Burke.

The good news is that there are tips that can help make the holidays a little merrier for everyone.

Rethink holiday routines. “Try to think about new traditions or modifications to standing holiday traditions that are doable for you, even with your medical condition. Avoid ‘an all or nothing’ approach to celebrating the holidays,” says Shulman.

Find a happy medium. Just because you have to rethink some traditions, doesn’t mean you have to cut them out entirely. “Try to find an even ground between reducing activity to suit your current level of stamina given your medical illness and outright isolation,” advises Shulman. “Prioritize the most important holiday activities and politely decline holiday obligations that are not as worthwhile or fulfilling.” And you can look at alternatives to help: For instance, if you would usually drive to a holiday party but can’t anymore, consider asking for a ride or calling a taxi.  

Do something that brings you joy—every day. Whether it’s a daily walk, listening to a particular song or doing a relaxation technique, find something that you love and add it to your everyday routine—even if that means scheduling it. “If you are having physical or cognitive problems, select tasks that are reasonable for your current level of functioning. Have a family member or friend help you with this goal if needed,” Shulman says.  

Consider talking to a professional. While some adjustment or difficulty is expected, if it starts to impact your daily life, you may want to seek help from a professional. “Be mindful of symptoms that may indicate that you are suffering from a serious adjustment reaction or even clinical anxiety or depression,” says Shulman. Some examples might be low mood, hopelessness or loss of pleasure. Also important: “Anxiety, above and beyond usual day to day worries may also be present. It can be about something specific (such as your health) or more generalized in nature. The worry can often be accompanied by physical symptoms such as restlessness, tiring easily or sleeping problems or even panic attacks. Cognitive difficulties including trouble sustaining your attention or concentrating may also occur.  If you find that these symptoms are present talk to your doctor about a referral for a mental health professional,” she says.

Though the holiday season may not be the same you’re used to, remember to focus on the positive, start brand new traditions and remember to enjoy the time you get to spend with loved ones. That is, after all, what this season is all about.

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Burke's Rehab Insights blog is intended to provide general information about rehabilitation and other health care topics. It should not take the place of medical care. Burke staff cannot comment on individual medical cases or give medical advice.

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