Christmas blues can be managed

Published 3:11 pm Thursday, December 24, 2009

Though the myth that suicides increase during the holidays has been debunked by numerous studies, stress related to the holidays is very real, and can be managed by keeping a good attitude, according to one counselor.

“I have really stepped back to look at what’s really important,” said Shirls Hall, a counselor at Southside Counseling Center in Suffolk. “When stressful things occur, I ask myself, ‘Is this going to matter a year from now?’”

People can become stressed out by all sorts of things during the Christmas season: Trying to find the perfect gift, getting tasks done at work, cleaning the house and doing numerous other chores can add up to monumental stress.

Hall said she manages holiday stress by keeping her sense of humor, and she encouraged others to do the same.

“Attitude is contagious,” Hall said. “Keep a sense of humor.”

Hall also suggested delegating responsibilities, keeping others involved, giving to those less fortunate and being willing to change traditions.

“You don’t have to be bound to them,” Hall said of traditions. “Use them as a guide.”

For some people, however, normal holiday stress is exacerbated by emotional or physical pain.

“A lot of time, people have pain during the holidays, either by history or current experience,” Hall said. “Be very kind to yourself. Remember to breathe. Drink lots of water. Remember that alcohol is a depressant. If it gets bigger than you can manage, call for help.”

Despite the reality of holiday stress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the idea of suicides increasing during the holidays is a long-perpetuated myth. In fact, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics says the rate of suicide is lowest in December — it peaks in the spring and fall.

Suicide is, unfortunately, a year-round reality, so people should not take signs of it in loved ones lightly simply because it is the holidays. More than 33,000 people kill themselves each year in America, and more than 390,000 more attempt to do so. Risk factors include previous suicide attempts, history of depression or other mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse, family history of suicide or violence, physical illness and feeling alone. Symptoms of suicidal thoughts include changes in eating or sleeping patterns, feelings of hopelessness, lessened interest in valued activities, fatigue, isolation, changes in behavior and depressed mood.

Call 1-800-SUICIDE for help if needed. To reach the Southside Counseling Center, call 255-2555.