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Do you realize that the only time in our lives when we like to get old is when we’re kids? If you’re less than 10 years old, you’re so excited about aging that you think in fractions.

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With all the hype and expectations that inevitably arise during the run up to Christmas, the season of goodwill can easily turn into the season of great stress.

Judi Clements, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation says, “At this time of the year the pressure really goes on at work and at home, so it’s really important for people to look after their mental health and reduce the rise in physical and emotional demands.”

The Mental Health Foundation offers the following twelve tips to help you survive Christmas stress:

On the first day of Christmas

Decide how you would like to celebrate Christmas this year. If an elaborate meal, and a house full of relatives and guests aren’t your idea of a perfect day, maybe this is the year to make some changes.

On the second day of Christmas

Plan and agree with family members and friends where you will go, what presents you will buy, and what sort of food you will have.

On the third day of Christmas

Keep spending in proportion. It’s not good for your mental health to start the New Year worrying about how to get back into the black.

On the fourth day of Christmas

Avoid the Christmas crowds. Unless you thrive on crowded shops and queues, try to shop at quieter times. It may be worth taking a day’s annual leave before Christmas to use the time to cross things off your Christmas list.

On the fifth day of Christmas

Take time out each day for some relaxation – Get a massage, pamper yourself or read a bit of your favourite book to unwind.

On the sixth day of Christmas

Get moving – physical activity lifts your mood and can reduce stress. Walk outdoors, dance at Christmas parties, or go for a swim. Make the most of our beaches, parks and gardens and get out into the natural environment.

On the seventh day of Christmas

Remember others. With 47% of New Zealanders experiencing a mental illness at some point in their life, there is bound to be someone on your Christmas card list who is not feeling festive. Give them a call. The support of friends can be really helpful, so stay in touch.

On the eighth day of Christmas

Monitor your drinking. This is the time of year when the booze begins to flow. Too much alcohol can make you irritable, tired, affect relationships and add to depression.

On the ninth day of Christmas

Don’t drive when you’re tired, stressed or have been drinking. Know where the ‘dial-a-driver’ services are or make sure you have a designated driver.

On the 10th day of Christmas

Stress can contribute to mental health problems such as depression and sometimes grief for loved ones who are not with us at Christmas can emerge. If you are vulnerable to stress or are close to someone who is, make sure you have someone you trust to talk to and phone numbers for support such as Lifeline, Youthline or the depression support line – 0800 111 757.

On the 11th day of Christmas

Don’t be lonely. If you will be alone this Christmas why not find out about community activities and get-togethers in your local area? There may be volunteering opportunities in hospitals or rest homes where Christmas is a shared event. This can be a way of being with others at Christmas and helping at the same time.

On the 12th day of Christmas

Have fun! Remember it doesn’t have to be perfect. If you’re having a family gathering and you know that some people don’t see eye to eye, be realistic and minimise conflict. Try not to put pressure on yourself to keep everyone happy. Christmas is for everyone and that includes you!

It’s not unusual to experience some of the signs of depression from time to time. If things are getting you down over Christmas, there are things you can do to help yourself.

  • Write in your journal.
  • Read a good book.
  • Go for a walk. Physical activity relaxes you and makes you feel good.
  • Eat a regular diet of wholesome food.
  • Listen to music.
  • Get a massage.
  • Avoid sugar and sugar forming food (pasta, rice)
  • Reduce or cut out alcohol.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Keep in contact with your loved ones.
  • Spend some time in nature.
  • Watch a sitcom or funny movie.
  • Take a long, hot bath.
  • Take care of a few small tasks.
  • Enjoy the company of a pet.
  • Do something nice for someone else

    Defining something that means different things to everyone we talk to can lead to a bit of confusion. An investigation into the multiple layers of meaning about depression can be time-consuming and baffling.

    Medical professionals have their own definition of depression. They have a tendency to adopt words with commonly understood meanings and give them specialised and unfamiliar interpretations. So we thought we would start by talking to the people that know what they are talking about and who use every-day language. Because they are working with depressed people all the time, and can relate personal experience, DSN Staff have come up with their own unique understandings of depression:

    • A valuable life experience. I have become a better a person, a more understanding person, through depression.
    • Panapana (emotional turmoil)
    • Vicious cycle of sadness
    • A fog that can lift
    • A psychological, spiritual, emotional and psychic response to that which is hurtful, harmful and wrong
    • Like being enveloped in a black cloud on a sunny day
    • A way of being where saying “pull yourself together and snap out of it” doesn’t do the trick

    The New Oxford American Dictionary on the DSN laptop defines depression as follows:

    depression |diˈpre sh ən|
    severe despondency and dejection, typically felt over a period of time and accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy.
    Medicine a condition of mental disturbance characterized by such feelings to a greater degree than seems warranted by the external circumstances, typically with lack of energy and difficulty in maintaining concentration or interest in life.

    ORIGIN late Middle English : from Latin depressio(n-), from deprimere ‘press down’ (see depress ).

    We are off to a good start. This is a demonstration of the diversity of definition that is around. OK now for a troll through the highways and byways of the internet.

    We tried the Wikipedia definition of depression. The depression disambiguation page lists quite a few entries. The page also has the briefest definition we have come across online.

    Depression is a general lowering or reduction, for example of mood, activity, or functionality.

    Gets a bit more complicated when you follow any of the links. Like the one to Depression (mood):

    In everyday language depression refers to any downturn in mood, which may be relatively transitory and perhaps due to something trivial. This is differentiated from Clinical depression which is marked by symptoms that last two weeks or more and are so severe that they interfere with daily living. In the field of psychiatry the word depression can also have this meaning but more specifically refers to a mental illness when it has reached a severity and duration to warrant a diagnosis. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) states that a depressed mood is often reported as being: “… depressed, sad, hopeless, discouraged, or ‘down in the dumps’.”

    The DSM doesn’t actually list Clinical Depression as far as I can see. So they are probably talking about a Major Depressive Episode or a Major Depressive Disorder. Names change as more becomes known and better descriptions are applied. Other mood disorders are:

    • Manic Episode
    • Mixed Episode
    • Hypomanic Episode
    • Dysthymic Disorder
    • Bipolar I Disorder
    • Bipolar II Disorder
    • Cyclothymic Disorder

    We found a very cute NZ site called The Lowdown . We switched to the HTML version – ‘just gimme the facts!’ We’ve asked Char and Nate to have a look around and give you a report, as the site seems to be aimed mostly at youth. Very nice accessible stuff here like this definition of depression that uses everyday language:

    Depression is the experience of being in a really low mood, pretty much all the time, over a long period of time. Depression can be a serious illness, which leaves you feeling sad or miserable most of the time. It’s been described as “being sad and empty”, and “feeling totally hopeless”. The experience of depression is different for each person. But people who are depressed usually have several of the common symptoms of depression, for at least two weeks. Anyone who’s been depressed will tell you – it’s pretty tough to deal with. But the good news is, you can get through it, and there is help out there.

    December 2007
    M T W T F S S