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While some people look forward to New Year’s parties and resolutions, others
dread this traditional time to take stock and look back on the past year’s
accomplishments – or lack thereof.
If you're mildly or moderately depressed already – or perhaps suffer from
depression in winter -- all this taking stock of yourself can make things
worse, especially if you tell yourself you never measure up.
Here, experts tell WebMD how to understand what may be behind your urge to
do become blue and self-critical around the new year – and how to resist the
New Year’s blues this time.
What's With the New Year’s Scorecard?
To look back at the year and what you have done is natural to a degree, says
Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, professor of psychology at Yale University who has
researched depression and the habit of rumination -- going over and over your
problems and feelings without taking any action to overcome or solve them.
In fact, at the new year, it's difficult not to reassess at least a bit,
says Nolen-Hoeksema, the author of Women Who Think Too Much. Surf the
net, turn on the television or radio, and there they are -- all those
"The media goes over and over what happened this year," she says. So
it's understandable, to some degree, that many of us do, too.
Soon after the year-in-review shows comes talk about New Year's resolutions
-- and any talk about making resolutions invariably means focusing on your
shortcomings, says Edward Abramson, PhD, professor of psychology emeritus
at California State University Chico and author of Body Intelligence and
To make matters worse, the talk about resolution-making follows a host of
holiday occasions -- whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza --
that rarely live up to expectations, Abramson adds. And some people may
blame themselves for that, too.
If you're already depressed, you may rate yourself and your accomplishments
lower than others would, Nolen-Hoeksema says.
Ruminators and the New Year’s Blues
If you find yourself assessing and reassessing the year, becoming more and
more depressed, you may be a ruminator. Women are more likely than men to have
this habit, Nolen-Hoeksema says.
In her research, Nolen-Hoeksema has focused on "ruminators." She
describes ruminators as those who go over and over their problems, either in
their own mind or by discussing them with others, but have no clear plan to
solve the issues. She has found:
Those who ruminate also tend to have negative coping styles, criticize
themselves unduly and be pessimistic. Ruminating and depression often go
Recognizing when to stop ruminating is crucial. "Everyone ruminates
some," she says. The real difficulty arises, she says, when you realize all
the thinking and rethinking about a problem or issue is not getting you
anywhere or is making you feel worse -- and still, you can't quit. "People
who get stuck in rumination think there is going to be insight by keeping on
thinking about it," she says. "They may have more trouble [than others]
shifting their attention [to other topics]."
Depression can make ruminating worse. If you are already in a depressed
mood and get started on a rumination cycle, you'll tend to focus on the worst
aspects of a problem, she says. "Rumination and depression are a toxic
mix." The rumination feeds the depression and vice versa. The process
is so reciprocal, says Nolen-Hoeksema, that it's difficult to identify
sometimes which started it all.