Do You Get the Blues for the Holidays?

Here are tips for taking care of yourself

The holidays can be a stressful time of year, when expectations for additional socializing, traveling, and gift-giving can upset even the most carefully balanced apple cart. In addition, approximately 14% of Americans experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition as major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern. Winter blues is also recognized as a less severe form of seasonal mood disorder.

Here are some tips for preventing coming down with the blues for the holidays. Remember, an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure!

  1. Make plans now to be with the people most important to you. By scheduling special time with those you most want to be with, you can more readily decline invitations that add to your busy-ness but not your bliss.
  1. If you’re not able to be with your loved ones, choose one meaningful activity you will give yourself instead. Maybe it’s a simple as a Skype or Zoom call to distant loved ones; maybe it’s treating yourself to a spa visit; maybe it’s participation in a faith-based service or tradition; maybe it’s special time with new friends or co-workers. The important thing is to honor yourself by attending to your needs for meaningful self-care and connection.
  1. Limit spending. Holiday gift-giving expectations can be one of the most stressful aspects of the holiday season. Consider making an agreement among family members that if gifts are exchanged, they will not exceed a certain dollar amount. Or gifts will be repurposed/recycled. Or handmade. Or consider instituting a White Elephant gift exchange, which engages everyone in comical gift-giving but doesn’t break the budget.
  1. Limit alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant and can amplify negative emotions. At a party, limit yourself to one or two drinks and consider limiting the occasions you drink to one or two a week. Instead, try—and perhaps offer—some of the increasingly appealing “mocktails,” adult-type beverages without the alcohol.
  1. Get enough exercise and sleep. Exercise is a great stress-reducer—and physical exertion is also a great way to get the sleep you need at night. If a vigorous physical workout doesn’t help you drift off to sleep when your head hits the pillow, try a few drops of liquid melatonin under the tongue, or warm up a delicious nightcap of golden milk, which is simply warm coconut milk mixed with turmeric, cinnamon, coconut oil, and peppercorns. You can sweeten it with honey, maple syrup, or stevia if you like it a little sweeter.
  1. Volunteer. One of the best ways to lift your own spirits is to make someone else happy! Join a group of carolers visiting a nursing home; volunteer in a soup kitchen or deliver meals to shut-ins; walk a dog that’s been cooped up in a shelter; join a beach or trail clean-up crew. You’ll help someone else and probably make new friends at the same time.
  1. Consider a light therapy box. Supporting your mood with an extra dose of bright white light that mimics sunshine has been shown to reduce SAD symptoms. Just be sure to choose one that filters out as much UV light as possible.
  1. Get support if you’re mourning a loved one. And be proactive. If you’re grieving a loss, don’t wait until you’re depressed to reach out, when chances are you won’t feel like doing it. Schedule time with friends in advance—and then stick to the plan. Ask your friends to help you by not letting you off the hook if you try to decline at the last minute. And if you know someone who’s going through the holidays without someone dear to them, give them a call, stop by, send them a card, include them in your activities—even if they’re as mundane as grocery shopping or cleaning the house. The important thing is human connection. We all need support from time to time.
  1. Be open to celebrating the holidays in a new way. If your time-honored traditions aren’t possible this year, let yourself create and enjoy a new one—your own or someone else’s. Go to synagogue with a Jewish friend; bake Swedish Christmas cookies instead of your family’s gingerbread; try a tabletop tree instead of one that fills the living room. There are many ways to celebrate; be open to new possibilities.
  1. Tell your doctor. You may benefit from a prescribed antidepressant.
  1. Try yoga and deep breathing. Studies show that a long, slow breathing practice calms the central nervous system, reduces anxiety, aids sleep, and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system—the one that’s responsible for the body’s “rest and repair” functions. Combined with yoga, you get the benefits of stretching, toning, and strength training.
  1. Practice gratitude. Gratitude is the secret to happiness. Take time to make a mental note of the good in your life. Even challenges and heartache can be blessings in disguise, prompting us to change and grow, and perhaps even develop greater strength, wisdom, and empath we might not have imagined ourselves capable of.

From humanity’s earliest days, the winter holidays were intended as a celebration of light in the darkness and a deepening of our connection to the seasons and each other. Don’t let the blues rob you of this special time with loved ones and the extended human family. To your happiness!


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