We think of the holiday season as a happy and joyous time of year. Unfortunately, for many people, this is a time filled with sadness, loneliness, or anxiety. There are many reasons why this may happen. I thought that I would take some time today to talk about the causes or triggers for the “holiday blues” as well as some ways to address those feelings.
What causes the Holiday Blues?
- Grief from lost loved ones is often more acutely felt this time of year.
- Inability to be with loved ones who are far away.
- Stress from the various demands this time of year brings
- Financial stress
- Unrealistic expectations – which may be from yourself or from others
- Overcommercialization of the holiday season
- Fatigue from trying to do too much on a day-to-day basis
- This time of year there is less daylight, which can cause actual changes in the chemical levels in the brain. This can lead to sadness or depression, sometimes severe. There is a condition called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which is considered a type of clinical depression.
What can you do to effectively beat the holiday blues?
- Be a sun seeker – Try to get at least 20-30 minutes of sun light each day. If you have severe symptoms, you might even consider light therapy. Be sure to talk with your doctor, or get some advice from one of our doctors before choosing any light therapy solution.
- Exercise – A regular exercise program is another way to improve the chemical levels in your brain which regulate your mood and anxiety levels.
- Do something for others – Helping others is a great way to lift your spirits. You can volunteer with a local charity, visit a local nursing home, or just spend extra time with an elderly relative or friend who needs help and support this time of year.
- Talk about and tell stories about your lost loved ones. This is a great time to talk about fond memories. When those memories are shared, they bring that much more joy.
- Stay busy – If you know that the holiday season will be difficult or lonely for you, try to plan ahead and fill your calendar with fun events so that you are not spending too much time alone.
- But not TOO busy – If you get overwhelmed from overscheduling, slow down and enjoy some quiet time. Make time for rest and relaxation, or spending some one-on-one time with a special person. Don’t feel like you have to go to every party or holiday event if you don’t want to.
- Think outside the box – There are no rules for how you spend your holidays. If old traditions bring up sad memories, start new traditions. Don’t wait to be invited to an event; invite others to your home instead. If cooking a big Christmas dinner is stressful, consider a potluck, or maybe a brunch instead. Just because you’ve always done the holidays one way, doesn’t mean you have to continue doing the same things every year.
- Avoid too much alcohol – Alcohol worsens depression.
- Remember to sleep – Getting 8 hours of sleep does wonders for your mood and anxiety.
- “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” – I love that old song! No matter what is happening in your life, try to focus on the good things rather than the bad. Taking the time to really think about and appreciate all of the positives in your life can really help improve your mood.
With a little forethought, you can beat those holiday blues, and have a wonderful holiday season.
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Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip