The most wonderful time of the year can certainly wreak havoc on our mental health if we’re not careful. In addition to the short-term depression known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), the winter holidays can bring on bouts of sadness and despair. Part of what causes holiday depression is the stress and anxiety present this time of year. Overeating, drinking too much alcohol and not exercising enough can also contribute.
The demands of the holiday season are many. We’re expected to travel, host guests, cook more than usual, celebrate at work and shop for gifts in our spare time. Those who are already financially strapped face added pressure to provide gift they can’t afford. Those who already have depression may find their symptoms worsen during this time, and even mentally healthy people are susceptible to it. Here are five tips to help you beat the holiday blues:
1. Figure out your priorities and stick to them. This may include only committing to a few holiday events and only buying gifts for your immediate family. Let your friends know ahead of time if you can’t afford a gift exchange. Then suggest an alternative, like a gift-free get-together at someone’s home. Not spending beyond your means and not committing to parties you know you can’t comfortably attend will eliminate a good portion of your stress.
2. Don’t set unrealistic expectations. Do not expect the holidays to be as magical as they were when you were a child. You are not the same person you were as a child, and neither is the rest of your family. Just focus on enjoying your time with them now.
3. Talk to your mental health therapist about increasing the frequency of your sessions. Your therapist will recommend behavioral remedies, make suggestions and possibly even prescribe medication that will help. If you aren’t in therapy but are prone to holiday depression, now is a great time to contact a counseling center. At the very least, temporary group therapy sessions will help you banish the holiday blues.
4. Devote plenty of time to staying physically healthy. Do things that benefit your wellness: practice yoga, take walks, get some aerobic exercise and eat healthy food. Give yourself a break whenever you need one and check in with your emotions.
5. Most importantly, remember to take some time to count your blessings. Depression is a real medical condition, and so are the holiday blues. But the better you keep your state of mind, the less likely you are to suffer. Count every blessing, big and small. Allow yourself to enjoy the season’s first snowfall and the classic Christmas music. Revel in gratitude for your health, your hope and your courage to face every day. Your positive attitude will be contagious to everyone around you, spreading that holiday cheer.