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Holiday Blues and Chronic Kidney Disease

Written by DaVita Social Worker Arlene Antonoff, LCSW, BCD

The holiday season is here, along with the anticipation of seeing family and friends, exchanging gifts and sharing traditional foods. Movies and television programs will be showing holiday specials. Stores, shops and offices will be playing festive music. The expectation is that this should be a joyous, even magical time of year, which it can be if you pay attention to your emotional needs.

Time constraints

For many people with kidney disease who are on dialysis, the holidays may remind them of happier times when they didn’t have to think about their health. Between trying to avoid tempting holiday foods and not having enough time for shopping, visiting and all the other things that take up time during the holiday season, some people may resent that they must be on dialysis. While the time it takes to dialyze may be perceived as a burden during this busy season, and avoiding favorite holiday foods may make you blue; try to remember that staying on dialysis for your full treatment and sticking to your dialysis diet will help you feel your physical best. When your blood is clean through adequate dialysis, it helps combat the physiological reasons of depression that can occur with people on dialysis.

Financial strains

Money is another source of holiday depression. The pressure to spend more money than we have to buy gifts for those around us can contribute to feeling down. Wanting to buy expensive presents, but not being able to afford them due to medical expenses, or being on a fixed income can make some people feel bad about what they have not achieved in life. Setting a realistic holiday budget and remembering that “it’s the thought that counts” can relieve stress and help us share the joys of the holidays. Being thoughtful by means other than financial can be a true gift for the holiday season.


The traditions and nostalgia of the holidays are often reminders of those dear to us who are no longer with us. The holiday hype can also contribute to feeling that “everyone has a loving family to be with except me.” Loneliness can be especially present at this time of the year. Remember you are not really alone. Talk with the people at your dialysis center and share your feelings. You may find you’re not the only one with these feelings. If you feel especially down, talk with your social worker who may provide some helpful insight.

Tips for avoiding holiday stress

The mixed emotions that can come with the holiday season are experienced by almost everyone, even people who don’t have renal disease. The true challenge is to prepare for the holidays so that your emotional needs are considered and nurtured. Planning how you will spend the holidays, with whom, and how you will budget your expenses can reduce anxiety and depression and increase the possibility of having a positive experience. The following recommendations are designed to increase your joy and decrease your stress:

  • Plan ahead - If you don’t have someone to spend the holidays with, consider volunteering your time at a shelter or inviting someone new to spend the day. Take a risk and reach out to start a new friendship, ask a current friend to go for a walk or meet for coffee.  There are many free or inexpensive activities available, such as going to a museum, concert, park or the beach. Many places of worship offer special holiday activities and opportunities to interact with others.

  • Get enough sleep, exercise and continue to eat healthy - Something as simple as going outdoors for a breath of fresh air or taking a short walk (although longer is better) can shift a bad mood to a good mood and can reduce stress. The colder weather and shortened daylight hours also affect mood, so be sure to get enough sunlight—and remember sunscreen. The recovery community is active during the holiday season because of the recognition of the stress and temptations during this time. Take advantage of community support programs to help keep you on your diet or program.

  • Decide what might make you feel good - Give yourself a gift this holiday. Phone a friend or relative, curl up with a good book, watch your favorite movies or television programs, prepare a special meal and invite someone over. These are things that can lift your spirit. Again, volunteering or offering to help someone else can be an incredible gift for the giver as well as for the receiver.

  • Set realistic goals for yourself - Budget your funds wisely. Most people really do appreciate the thought that a sincere, handwritten note provides. Take it easy on yourself, too. Don’t try and overdo it. Decide what’s most important and attainable and focus on that.

  • Share your thoughts and feelings - Whether it’s a friend, colleague, professional counselor or spiritual support, talking and expressing your feelings can brighten your holiday season.