Salamat Dok: Holiday ills and blues

by Yam dela Cruz, Multimedia producer, Salamat Dok

Posted at Dec 21 2010 02:47 AM | Updated as of Dec 22 2010 01:16 AM

Filipinos love December. Why not? It’s the month of Christmas and New Year a week after. The celebration doesn’t start on December 1. When “ber-months” approach, everybody goes gaga about going to Divisoria, availing sales at the malls and searching for places where they can stretch their money so they can buy more gifts for their friends and relatives.

It’s the time of the year they say. Festivities are everywhere. There are parties left and right. Likewise gifts also abound. And of course, it’s not complete without the irresistible food. With few days left before Christmas, people are going gaga on their last minute shopping. Smiles are everywhere but health concerns should not be ignored.

The Ills of Christmas

While the “ber-months” signal festivities, we cannot deny that during this time, some people can be prone to physical and emotional health-risks. Dr. Willie Ong, a cardiologist at Manila Doctors Hospital and Makati Medical Center, Salamat Dok’s resident medical volunteer and philantropist says, “There are three common holiday [physical] ailments – one is heart-related like stroke and heart attack due to the intake of fatty foods and liquor drinking; another is flu due to the fluctuating weather conditions; and the third is firecracker-related accidents.”

But aside from physical illnesses like Dr. Ong mentioned, Christmas also brings emotional stress. There are people who do not feel happy about the holidays especially those who view festivities as a sign of isolation.

Some people get depressed when December sets in. Dr. Margie Holmes, a well-known psychologist and author of several books says, “People get depressed a lot of times. Christmas always leads to stress not only when they get sick. Based on many studies, heart problem and depression are very, very closely related. It’s unknown yet if depression causes heart problem or the other way around.” But experts observe that before a patient becomes sick or suffers from stroke and heart attack, normally, something emotionally stressful incident happens at home – quarrel, problem, etc.

Dr. Ong suggests that positive thinking is necessary. To avoid holiday pressure and stress, we should always remember that we need not spend lavishly. Cheaper foods are much healthy, like vegetables and fish.

Holiday depression is caused by situations that trigger negative feelings such as:
-    Facing the holidays without a loved one;
-    Financial situations or financial constraints; and
-    Finding a perfect gift with a limited budget.

Causes of Holiday Depression

1.    Anniversary depression – an experience or condition that reminds one of how Christmas experiences were so awful in the past.
2.    Comparison depression – the opposite of the previous item. This type reminds one of how wonderful Christmas experiences were in the past.
3.    MAD (Monsoon affective Disorder) - this is a South East Asian version of SAD or Seasonal affective disorder. Spouses and families of distant OFWs are usually affected.

Case Study

Monalisa has been longing for her husband Richard, an OFW in South Korea. Four Decembers had passed since they last spent Christmas together. She said she feels extreme sadness whenever she remembers her husband especially on their first year of being apart. “I’m overly stressed. I feel traumatized. I fear almost everything. Sometimes when I take a walk, I suddenly cry with no reason at all,” shares Monalisa.

To cope up, they engage in internet chat aside from the usual telephone calls every night. Monalisa also keeps herself busy with her child and business.

Case Study: The Doctors’ Remarks

•    Keeping herself busy with her business is a coping mechanism but she should also remember that attending to business is stressful. It’s a good thing that there’s an outlet to her sad feelings but sometimes it helps to recognize the problem. Like thinking that life is like this and that, and then you can move on with other things. Positive thinking is the key. ~ Dr. Margie Holmes

•    Our family is our support system. When they’re not around, who do you run to? Sometimes it’s hard to open up or confide with other people because of fear of being talked about. For Filipinos who are abroad, like OFWs, they don’t feel Christmas. The environment smells different, the food is different, and your family is not beside you, all these stuff. Spouses of OFWs empathize with their loved ones. ~ Dr. Margie Holmes

•    In cases like that of Monalisa, one of the solutions is to find or mingle with friends. There’s a latest study that people who have more friends live longer compared to those with few friends, like in Friendster, Facebook or in non-virtual world. Having few friends, the study cited, is like smoking 15 sticks a day, drinking alcohol and eating fatty and oily food. ~ Dr. Willie Ong

•    There is also a medical study which suggests that if you have a headache, talk to a friend, and it will subside. It’s as good as paracetamol - Dr. Willie Ong

•    One thing also to remember, if your friends are only in the computer, this is not good because you are just in the house or in one place. Many studies have been done that people who use the computer a lot tend to be more depressed. There’s a big correlation about being addicted to internet or computer use. But, it’s better to have Friendster or Facebook than nothing at all.

Dr. Margie Holmes answers some FAQs

Does positive thinking really work?

“It depends on what kind of positive thinking. Many believe in the common adage, “Smile and the world smiles with you. You just have to face the world.” But sometimes, if positive thinking means nothing, it’s just like a cliché. That doesn’t help. That makes you feel sadder. But when you think of your sad feelings and relate it into something that benefits you in return, like the Monalisa’s case, then that’s good! For example, “Hmm, I’m okay to be apart with my spouse who’s working abroad, now I can send my kids to better school.”

Are men sadder than women?

“Based on a lot of research and studies, there are more women who get sick with a ratio of 2 is to 1. But many psychologists dispute this. Women naturally show sadness or depression by crying. That’s how we perceive depression. But men show it differently – they get drunk or angry. Anger is closely tied to depression but we don’t recognize it. The theory of many psychologists and psychiatrists, both men and women have the same level of depression – but with on different outlets.”

What if the depressed person refuses help?

“Our culture says let’s force them but some studies suggest that you should not help them if they don’t want to. All you have to do is to be supportive, be there, listen if he or she wants to talk. You can’t force them to go to the doctor.”

How to cope up with Holiday Blues

1.    Keep yourself busy. This is a perfect time to do general cleaning at home, pile up clothes in the cabinet, set aside clothes that are not being used and try selling them through garage sale, give them to your needy neighbors or to charity.

2.    Break your routine! If you usually stay at home, go out and attend Christmas parties. It’s a good time to mingle with friends, enjoy the food and have a good feeling about meeting new friends.

3.    If you prefer to be alone, listen to your favorite songs. Occasional music nourishes the soul.

4.    Treat yourself with body spa or any service that will pamper your body. This is one of the best ways to relax your tired and stressed body.

Healthy Foods for the Holidays

Parties, reunions, and many get together usually happen during December. Foods galore and you can’t resist them. Doctors and nutritionists always say, “It is okay to eat but it should be moderate and balanced.” With temptations all around you, here’s a guide on what’s best to eat during these holidays.

December 18, 2010