We know that rates of depression and stress can increase significantly over the holiday season.  But you don’t need to have a diagnosis of clinical depression to feel down during the holidays.  According to Mental Health America, the holiday season for many can be a time of loneliness, self-evaluation, reflection on past failures, and anxiety about an uncertain future.  Even if we are feeling excited about the holidays, there can often be a lingering stressor or two dragging us down during this time of year.  You can bet that, if it’s not you feeling it, someone close to you is faking their holiday excitement and hiding their holiday blues.

What causes holiday blues?

Many factors can cause holiday blues: fatigue, stress, anxiety around dealing with others, loneliness, unrealistic expectations, and financial constraints.  People may develop stress responses such as headaches, over-eating, and difficulty sleeping.  They may also be tempted to abuse food and alcohol during the holiday season.  Overall, people can find themselves straying from their typical healthy behaviors and coping in unhealthy ways.  Fortunately, there are numerous ways to cope during the holidays.

Here are some tips to minimize stress and/or depressed mood and increase feelings of joy and balance during the holidays.

Ways to Center Yourself and Feel Joy during the Holidays

  1. Keep expectations for the holiday season manageable.  Set realistic goals for yourself.  Pace yourself and organize your time.  Make a list and prioritize the important activities.  Scratch the ones that make you feel too strained off the list and add the ones important for your enjoyment.
  1. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do.  Activities can be spread out to lessen stress and increase enjoyment.  Practice saying no to loved ones who pressure you.  For example, if a loved one wants to stay later or wants you to stay later during the holidays, remind them of how much is on your plate and how you need to feel well and energized. Save time for yourself and let others share in the responsibility of planning activities.
  1. Surround yourself with positive people who make you feel hopeful and give you encouragement.  This time of year can actually be the perfect time to join the hiking club or the improv group you’ve been wanting to join.
  1. Do something for someone else.  When we help others, dopamine (a feel-good chemical in the brain) is released.  Schedule a time to help out others to reap the mood-lifting benefits of volunteering your time.
  1. Enjoy activities that are free.  Read your local newspaper online as there are often free holiday events in the area. 
  1. This is the season when you need self-care the most.  Take a time-out when relatives are in town and get a massage, take your yoga class, or go to your spin class.  Your relatives can be alone for an hour or two.  If you feel uncomfortable telling them where you are going then don’t…simply say you are going to a previously scheduled appointment (this is a health boundary).  Self-care is vital to your holiday joy and people can often read your body language when you are either stressed or at ease.  The holidays are not the time to skip out on your usual “me time” activities..this is the time to amp them up.
  1. Leave “yesteryear” in the past and look toward the future.  Each season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Try something new.  Novel activities can help you create a new association in the brain and help you to feel lifted.  Celebrate holidays in a new way!

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