Managing Hepatitis C: 7 Ways to Avoid the Holiday Blues
One of the most prominent causes of liver disease in the U.S., chronic infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is often associated with stress and depression. The holiday season, which begins for most Americans with Thanksgiving and continues through New Year’s Day, is known for its tendency to foster these unwanted emotions. Unfortunately, stress and depression have a propensity for worsening Hepatitis C infection. By maintaining an awareness of your emotional state and working with the seven expert suggestions described below, you can prevent the holiday blues from ruining your winter celebrations and stop it from escalating your Hepatitis C infection.
Why Holidays Can Be Hard
The holidays are supposed to be full of joy. Considering there are holiday traditions, vacation time, special meal preparations, scrumptious feasts, family reunions and gift exchanges, holiday stress and depression seems counterintuitive. However, all of these seemingly joyous occasions can also be problematic. For those with chronic Hepatitis C, there may even be additional sources of discontentment. If you find yourself dreading the holiday season, you are not alone. While there are many potential causes of the holiday blues, below are four justifiable reasons that some people with HCV may not look forward to this time of year:
- Alcohol – Many holiday traditions revolve around drinking alcohol, an absolute no-no for those with HCV. Especially for someone who recently conquered alcohol dependence, being around drinking traditions while remaining abstinent can be excruciating.
- HCV Status – Whether spending time with relatives who are anxious to hear how you’ve been or having family spend the night at your home, your HCV status could become a topic of discussion. This might involve revealing details about your treatment or lab tests or explaining to your cousins why they can’t borrow your nail clippers. Unfortunately, the stigma of living with Hepatitis C can be just as harmful to an individual as the virus itself.
- Finances – For many with HCV, the monetary aspect of their illness can be overwhelming. Unless covered by a fantastic, comprehensive insurance program, treatment can be very pricey. In addition, Hepatitis C symptoms could lead to missed work or may even be the reason someone is unemployed. With the added expenses of gifts, travel, food and entertainment, the holidays can easily strain a financial budget – a bringing on holiday stress and depression.
- Exhaustion – Even die-hard holiday enthusiasts may find that the extra shopping, cooking and socializing can leave them wiped out. Especially because fatigue is the most common symptom of HCV, those with this illness are even more vulnerable to exhaustion. Being exhausted increases stress, creating a vicious cycle that can lead to the holiday blues.
HCV, Stress and Depression
Stress and depression are not allies to those with chronic Hepatitis C. Living with this illness frequently causes stress and depression while these emotional states also worsen the damage HCV can do to the liver.
Many experts believe that the psychological burden and stress associated with chronic Hepatitis C makes those with the illness susceptible to depressive episodes. Although not clinically proven, some practitioners surmise that the Hepatitis C virus negatively affects the central nervous system – a mechanism capable of encouraging depression.
Stress can have a negative impact on both the mind and the body. People with Hepatitis C often comment that a period of stress usually leads to a ‘flare-up’ of symptoms, especially fatigue. Some study findings that support this understanding, include:
- ‘Fear’ and ‘anxiety’ induced by hypnotic suggestion significantly decreases blood flow through the liver.
- During stress, natural killer cells are expanded in the liver, which can contribute to liver cell death and worsening of liver disease.
- In the part of the brain that controls the liver, stress impairs blood flow and may lead to or trigger liver damage.
Defined as persistent feelings of sadness, a loss of interest in life, hopelessness and pessimism, depression affects the liver in a similar, but more pronounced way as stress.
Tips to Beat the Holiday Blues
The overarching key to preventing stress or depression from sapping you this winter is to be aware of its presence and consciously aim for an enjoyable season. Suggestions to accomplish this, include:
- Exercise and Sleep – Although these basics are good antidotes for depression, stress and fatigue, exercise and sleep often take a back seat to holiday chores and errands. When planning your schedule, make sure to give exercise and sleep priority over traveling, shopping and entertaining.
- Visualize and Set Limits – Ronald Nathan, a psychologist in Albany, N.Y., advises people to visualize themselves at a family gathering and predict ways to react to various scenarios, always seeing themselves as positive and calm. This often involves setting boundaries, such as asserting what you do and don’t want to discuss. From a financial perspective, set limits for your spending. Recognize that most of the world is in an economic slump, and it is okay to gift in ways that don’t require money. Consider giving homemade gifts or participating in a family gift exchange.
- Be Picky – Give yourself permission to choose which holiday gatherings feel best to you. If the New Year’s bash at your sister-in-law’s house is always a booze-fest, pick a different activity to ease the stress of being around so much alcohol. Make sure to spend some time during the holidays with people who are supportive and lift your spirits. If you must see people who are challenging for you, limit the time you spend there.
- Breathe – Combine the pace of the typical holiday season with stress, anxiety or depression and you often get shallow breathing. Breathing deeply delivers more oxygen to your bloodstream, helps release tension and can help relax and clear your head. To breathe deeply, place your hand just above your pubic bone and consciously bring your breath all the way down to your hand.
- Volunteer – Besides embodying the holiday spirit, volunteering feels good. By helping others who have challenges in their lives, it makes you realize how blessed you are and that there are things far worse than living with HCV. The satisfaction from making a difference in someone else’s life has a magical way of erasing stress and depression.
- Nurture Your Energy – Besides getting enough sleep, prepare for the fatigue that may result from a flurry of holiday activities. One way to do this is to feed your cells NT Factor®, a substance that repairs and fortifies the energy-producing portions of your cells. Containing NT Factor®, Fatigue Relief Plus™ can prepare those susceptible to fatigue for a busy holiday season. Specially formulated for those with liver concerns, Fatigue Relief Plus™ is a supplement that also contains milk thistle extract – an herb that helps the liver resist damage.
- Get Help – When negative feelings get the best of you, reach out to someone you trust for guidance or seek professional help. If feelings of depression, sleeplessness, irritability and hopelessness persist, a physician or mental health professional can be extremely helpful.
Particularly important if you have Hepatitis C and are prone to feeling down during the holidays, make sure you take steps to protect yourself this winter. By prioritizing your feelings and practicing some of the suggestions above, you can experience the joy of the holiday season. While joy is certainly a motivator, preventing HCV from worsening makes avoiding holiday blues a necessary component of managing your liver’s health.
http://www.hcvadvocate.org/hepatitis/factsheets_pdf/stress_liver.pdf, Stress and the Liver, Alan Franciscus, Retrieved October 22, 2010, Hepatitis C Support Project, 2010.
http://www.healthkey.com/a-z/holiday-health/sns-health-holiday-single-survival,0,1651568,full.story, Holiday for One, Richard Asa, Retrieved October 19, 2010, Chicago Tribune, 2010.
http://www.healthkey.com/seniors/sns-health-holiday-beating-yuletide-blues,0,814561.story, Beating Those Yuletide Blues, Joan Westlake, Retrieved October 19, 2010, HealthKey, 2010.
http://www.hepatitis-central.com/mt/archives/2007/08/breaking_the_he.html, Breaking the Hepatitis C Social Stigma, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Natural Wellness, 2010.
http://www.hepatitis-central.com/mt/archives/2009/01/why_depression.html , Why Depression is Likely With Hepatitis C, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved October 21, 2010, Natural Wellness, 2010.
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/MH00030, Stress, depression and the holidays: 10 tips for coping, Retrieved October 19, 2010, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2010.