Monday, November 21, 2011

Anyone Got the Holiday Blues?

Rosalind Kalb, PhD
Vice President, Professional Resource Center, National MS Society

So, 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!


  1. The holiday season is the worst time of the year. Everybody is in their materialistic rush to shop until they drop. and I am just interested in maintaining my exercise routine that is enabling me to keep the disabling effects of MS at bay. Even my normally supportive family has less patience for my limitations at this time of the year.

  2. The holidays is just another day to me this year. I was only diagnosed with MS almost two years ago. Not only that, I also lost my wonderful pet dog on April 4th and my wonderful husband on April 8th. It's like a double whammy for me this year. My husband was my caregiver/housekeeper/cook. Now I can barely take care of this myself. I try as much as I can and I'm grateful I have neighbors/friends who help. Helping is one thing, understanding MS is another. If I do anything out of my daily routine then I'm stressed and extremely fatigued. I'm happy I can still walk, with limitations. I use a power chair if I go anywhere outside. I live in a city with very high crime rate so I don't go far from my home without taking the disabled bus to get there and back. No way I feel comfortable riding my chair up to the stores which is only 2 miles away. I am not a sociable person so I'm okay with not having many folks around me. Anyway, the holidays is just another day to me and I probably will do what I always do in my daily routine. I do hope those of you who love the holidays have a great time enjoying them.

  3. It's just the end of the year that's all. I can't regain that spontaneous cheer and joy I once felt, not with so many taken and "about to be" taken - it's the "not fair" syndrome and no amount of colored lights or gifts I don't want anyway can bring back the innocence of a world without MS and cancer. I don't apologize for this melancholy, it's honest and I am as well.

  4. I always get depressed. Recently lost my mother in law who always hosted the holidays. Then I was dx with a rare form of colititis in Sept. Seems like I can't catch a break from diseases. Plus the normal stress of shopping, decorating, cooking, etc. It's just too much. I dread this season more & more every year!

  5. I was diagnosed over 20 years ago, & I was dealing with major depression from other causes for years before my MS DX. At one point I just told myself, "You have all eternity to find out what it's like to be dead and only a few decades to find out what it's like to be alive, so get on with life!"

    When I can't think of anything to shake my depression during the holiday season, I give a party myself (so I'm in control of the time & place), invite people to bring potluck (so I don't have to cook), and give them all a chance to do something that will be fun for them (like reading a funny play) - so that I'll be surrounded by happy people. That usually knocks out some of the worst of the bad time... and being thanked by my guests makes me feel a little more worthy of remaining alive through another winter.