Taking On the New Year's Blues
In other words, it can be a particularly difficult time for those whose lives aren't perfect, which would cover an awful lot of people. "Society gives us the message that we should be happy, enjoying ourselves, and taking stock," on New Year's Eve, Pollack says. "Our response is, I'm not happy, I'm taking stock, and I'm miserable.And we tend to think everyone else is happy."
The feelings that result -- hopelessness, helplessness, and isolation -- provide an excellent medium for depression to grow, Pollack says, and that could be especially true this year. "The millennium has been, shall we say, the most hyped experience of this century. ... It's bringing on an even heavier burden of stock-taking ... what our lives have been up to this point and what lies ahead."
One mechanism people use to control what lies ahead are New Year's resolutions -- which therapists say are often carelessly made and seldom followed through on. "The problem with resolutions are the expectations -- and most of us who make them don't make realistic ones," says Teresa Gevedon, MD, a psychiatrist at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. "I encourage goals, but setting resolutions tends to set you up to fail."
"The positive thing about resolutions is that they center on the assessment of where people are at and where they want to be -- the setting of goals," says Riley. "The negative is, folks tend to have this all or nothing idea of a resolution, and if it doesn't work out there's a sense of failure."
Pollack offers a possible solution. "My millennium resolution would be to make them so simple, clear, and immediately useful that you can't fail to achieve them." Which might mean resolving to make a small improvement in daily life -- such as paying the bills on time -- rather than promising to lose 50 pounds by spring.
Of course, before the resolutions come the celebrations -- and that's where depressed people can really get into trouble. Therapists advise that if you're feeling down about the holiday it might be a good idea to go easy on the champagne. "Alcohol is a depressant. It brings on depressing feelings," Pollack says. "Second, it has a lingering kind of impact on the depletion of energy."