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Holiday Blues are Real, But Here’s How to Beat Them

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but, for many Americans, the holiday season is the most hectic, most stressful, and most demanding.

While images of love and joy fill TV screens, magazine pages, and Facebook updates, for many, the reality of the holidays isn’t so cheerful. Between stressful end-of-year deadlines, family dysfunction and loss, poor eating and drinking habits, and increasingly cold and dark winter days, it’s easy for the holiday season to feel less than merry.

“It’s ironic, but many people struggle with feelings of sadness during the time of year we traditionally think of as being most festive,” said Paul Keck, M.D., University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. He goes on to explain there are sound psychological and biological reasons why people feel down as the year draws to a close—everything from increased demands on time and budgets to decreased sunlight can leave us feeling depleted.

Ways to Wash the “Blue” Away

When stress is at its peak, it can be hard to stop and regroup. This holiday season do your best to prevent stress and depression in the first place—especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past. With a few practical tips from the Mayo Clinic you can minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays and you may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would!

Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s okay to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.

Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious, or other social events as they can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others is also a good way to lift your spirits and broaden friendships.

Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, e-mails, or videos.

Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. Be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry; chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.

Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend…and stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.

Try these alternatives:

  • Donate to a charity in someone’s name.
  • Give homemade gifts.
  • Start a family gift exchange.

Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends, and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list to prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. If possible, line up help for party prep and cleanup.

Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when, say, your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.

Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence will only add to your stress and guilt.

Try the following:

  • Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese, or drinks.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.

Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing, and restoring inner calm.

Some options may include:

  • Taking a walk at night and stargazing.
  • Listening to soothing music.
  • Getting a massage.
  • Reading a book.

Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, or unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.

If you have questions about coping with holiday stress, or any healthcare issue, contact the primary care providers at Coastal Carolina Health Care by calling (252) 633-4111 or visiting www.cchchealthcare.com.

(Sources: Mayo Clinic; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; ABC News; CNN Health; Martin Health System; Consumer Reports; and Huffington Post.)