Dec. 8, 1997 By Michael Moran, M.D.
During the holidays happiness should abound. At least that’s what we’ve been told since we were children. But it’s common for the healthiest people to get a little "blue" during the holiday season. For many people with chronic illnesses, such as asthma, emphysema, cancer, diabetes and other serious diseases, the holidays can make this the most difficult and stressful time of the year.
For all of us, the holidays are an annual reminder of the past. For people with chronic illnesses, the holidays take on an even more significant meaning. The holidays are a reminder of the times before illness set in—of what has or could have been. Because holidays are anniversaries steeped in ritual and nostalgia, casting a backward glance to family get-togethers forces an inevitable comparison of the past and present. People with emphysema may recollect the years of their lives before they needed oxygen; people using wheelchairs likely remember the days when they needed less help from others. The result is that current events almost never measure up.
At a time when spirits are supposed to be high, people with chronic illness may find themselves at an emotional low. When many negative emotions hit at once, serious problems can occur. If you or a loved one experience excessive periods of sadness, daily crying spells, loss of appetite, feelings of being a burden on others and/or no desire to sleep during this holiday season, it’s time to seek help. Keeping a stiff upper lip and avoiding working through these difficult times will only make you miserable much longer than you need to be. The good news is that depression may be much more treatable than chronic diseases, such as asthma or emphysema, which affect emotions.
For people who just feel "blue," here a few ways to take control and increase the number of good memories the holidays could provide this year. If doing last-minute shopping, go at a comfortable pace; stay out of malls if they seem overstimulating; sit down to dinner rather than grabbing fast food; and try moderate exercise like stretching or walking to enhance well-being. Perhaps the best weapon in the arsenal against the "blues" is turning off the television and talking with family and friends.
This is one of the best ways to increase enjoyment and combat the "blues" during the holidays. Take the opportunity to talk over any events that have or might make you uncomfortable, and to listen to others’ versions of previous holidays. When engaging family and friends in conversation, and telling stories of holidays past, you may be surprised to learn that another person has a different, and a more positive impression of the same events. This new perspective on the past may help you find pleasure in what has been and what could be in the coming weeks—even with a chronic illness.
If you or a loved one have a chronic illness and additional help is needed this holiday season, please call LUNG LINE, (800) 222-LUNG.
Michael Moran, M.D., is director of Adult Psychosocial Medicine at National Jewish Medical and Research Center.
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