Anyone Got the Holiday Blues?

The holidays are approaching fast. There are presents to buy, friends and relatives to see, get-togethers to plan or attend, and meals to prepare or share. No wonder many of us greet this season with a mixture of excitement and panic – it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. And for anyone living with the overpowering fatigue of MS, just the thought of all this activity can be exhausting.

For some people the pressure to feel jolly, festive, social and grateful can have the opposite effect – leading to a whopping case of the holiday blues. We’ve all had them at one time or another, but MS can sometimes bring on those blues with a vengeance, particularly when MS symptoms make everything a little less fun and a little more challenging.

The shopping can be a major chore... the office celebrations start too late in the day…having people over is too stressful to even think about... people’s houses aren’t accessible…friends and family don’t really get it – they’re either trying too hard to be helpful and sympathetic (you know – those sad, worried looks that say “Oh, I’m sooo sorry”), or don’t understand the impact of MS at all (“But you look so good!”). All of these challenges can lead to feelings of loss, and a major disconnect between the way things are, the way people think they’re supposed to be at holiday time, and the way they used to be before MS came along.

It’s normal – and healthy – to grieve when things we value in our lives are lost or changed. When MS messes with people’s lives and abilities, requiring them to give up cherished activities or do them differently, they often feel as though MS is “chipping away” at them, changing the person they were into someone new and unfamiliar.

Grieving over changes and losses is a process that ebbs and flows with the ups and downs of the disease. Like all grief, it can feel very painful at times, but it generally lessens with time. And believe it or not, the grieving process is what allows people to gradually let go of the way things were yesterday and begin to think creatively about how they can make them better today.

The Role of Healthy Grieving

When getting into the holiday spirit feels like the challenge of a lifetime, it may help to think about what parts of the holiday season are most important to you – and focus your attention and energy on those. Give yourself permission to do things differently and let your family and friends in on your priority list. If buying presents for others is at the top of your list – skip the stores and jump onto the Internet. If having guests over is your passion, make it a potluck or order in the goodies. If using a mobility aid will help you conserve your energy for the fun stuff, grab it! The point is to hold onto whatever it is about the holidays that gives them meaning for you – and let go of the rest.

Understanding Depression

And now a word about depression – which is very common in MS even without the stress of the holidays. Remember I said that grief is normal and healthy? Well, depression isn’t. Depression doesn’t ebb and flow like grief; it comes and stays like an unbearable blanket of painful emptiness. As much a part of the disease process in MS as it is a reaction to its challenges, depression is a symptom of MS that deserves prompt diagnosis and treatment.

If you find that your mood has tanked, leaving you feeling sad or irritable most of every day for a few weeks, accompanied by a loss of interest in things that used to engage you, changes in your sleep patterns and/or eating habits, or thoughts about hurting yourself or suicide, let your healthcare provider know about it. Depression is very treatable. Getting a grip on your mood will make life – and the holidays – feel much easier to manage.

Diagnosing & Treating Depression

So if the holiday blues are grabbing you more than the holiday spirit, don’t hesitate to get the help you need – from family, friends, or a qualified mental health professional. And if you’ve found some good strategies to manage – and enjoy – the holidays, please share them! You can also join the conversation about surviving the holidays here

Tags Healthy Living, Symptoms      3 Appreciate this
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Rosalind Kalb, PhD

Rosalind Kalb, PhD is Vice President of Clinical Care at the National MS Society, developing and providing materials, tools, and consultation services for healthcare professionals. As a clinical psychologist in private practice, Dr. Kalb provided individual and family therapy for people living with MS for more than 25 years. She is the author of the National MS Society’s Knowledge is Power series for individuals newly diagnosed with MS and senior author of Multiple Sclerosis for Dummies.

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  • Ruth   Dec 17, 2014 10:51 AM
    Thank you for posting this. I am trying to do a little everyday to prepare for my children's and grandchildren's visit to make it easier. I definitely hear, but you look so good" all the time. I feel guilty for being stressed with dealing with all the holiday encompasses but definitely am looking forward to seeing them.
  • Avatar
    luvdsds  Dec 17, 2014 12:19 PM
    This will be the first holiday since my MS diagnosis I'm going to try and enjoy the Christmas season more. I usally do get very frustrated this time of year but luckily I have a loving understanding husband that has really stepped up to help me more this year. I would like to wish everyone a happy holidays, no matter how you plan or will spend it! Just take a moment to reflect on what you do have to be thankful for, even the small things, and pray for the ones who are less fortunate.
  • Junaid   Dec 17, 2014 10:09 PM
    May ALLAH help MS Patients and us all, A bad disease to have as there is no cure for it
  • Sarah Skeen   Dec 18, 2014 5:50 AM
    I sincerely appreciate the author and the article
    and relate to all of it. I will print it and share
    it with my group members and also call
    attention to it on MS Connection. As a peer
    counselor I always recommend that people
    read Multiple Sclerosis for Dummies. It is such a
    valuable book for people when first diagnosed.
  • Carherine   Dec 18, 2014 8:07 AM
    Just went thru a series of neuropsych tests that explain a lot of the cognitive difficulties I have in organizing and thinking. When diagnosed with RRMS 19 years ago, the doctors thought that MS had no effect on cognition.
    Well, we have all found out differently. I have to do little bits at a time for days and days before Christmas or any other event. We got a smaller tree this year. Our decorations are understated and we use Amazon a lot.
    One of our daughters wrote a paper in college about her favorite Christmas. It was the one when we were visiting with my mother in -law who was very ill. I could,d not help physically but we could giggle. When we got home, We had no time to decorate or shop. I called friends to ask them to include our other daughter in their family. When we stopped on the way home to pick up the other daughter, the friends fed us Christmas Eve dinner and read Christmas stories with us.
    Christmas morning there were no presents under the tree but we were all together and we don't even remember what we did for a meal.
    This may sound maudlin but it is true. Catherine
  • Ann Johnson   Dec 19, 2014 10:29 AM
    That was so comforting to read. I've always done all the cooking. Made everything from scratch. Loved the wrapping. Made my own cards. Partied,entertained. All gone. It makes me really sad. Everything is like walking through treacle! Hey ho.
  • herb   Dec 19, 2014 4:11 PM
    It's a hard time for me as I have few friends and no family close to visit, So content myself with reading, etc. One note. I'm no Doctor, but was diagnosed with ADHD many years ago. Had been having horrible fatigue, but my doc started me on a low dose of methylphenidate (Ritalin) Short Acting, and it has made a major improvement in both fatige and the depression I'm being treated for. Thanks for sharing.
  • Avatar
    Mickie  Dec 23, 2014 10:51 AM
    I also struggle with getting through the holidays. A year ago I was able to bake, even cookies, standing for hours in the kitchen. Now a year later I can't even prepare dinner for my husband. I can't stand that long. Do any of you experience pain when standing from sitting in a chair? It's like my knees don't want to work. Would enjoy hearing from others.