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Tips for battling those holiday blues

by Debbie Posnien Suicide Prevention Network

Holiday depression affects 1 million people every year. Men and women, young and old, all fall victim to feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, guilt and fatigue during this emotionally charged time.

Even people who love the holidays can experience the blues during this busy season, and then to add a pandemic where we have all felt a bit more stress can get anyone down. 

Depression and anxiety are common symptoms of the “Holiday Blues.” But with the added stress of being away from loved ones and forgoing holiday traditions due to the pandemic, more people are struggling to cope.

But with some practical tips, you can minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would.

When stress is at its peak, it’s hard to stop and truly reflect what this season is all about, but it is important to do so for your own mental health. Stress and depression can ruin your holidays and hurt your health. Being realistic, planning ahead and seeking support can help ward off stress and depression.

If you are feeling a bit down, and a bit more stressed, acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones for other reasons, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.

If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events or communities. Many may have websites, online support groups, social media sites or virtual events. They can offer support and companionship.

It certainly can help to talk to a friend or family member about your concerns, and more than often they will be feeling the same way. A text, a call or initiating a friendly Zoom is a way to get the conversation started. 

Another way is to volunteer your time or doing something to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. How about dropping off a meal and dessert at a friend’s home, COVID-style, during the holidays.

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 or other relatives can’t come to your home, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures or emails. Even though your holiday plans may look different this year, you can find ways to celebrate.

Forgiveness is a great start to any relationship! Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And 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.

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

Do your best to keep your healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.

Try these suggestions:

Have a healthy snack before holiday meals so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.

Eat healthy meals.

Get plenty of sleep.

Include regular physical activity in your daily routine.

Try deep-breathing exercises, meditation or yoga.

Avoid excessive tobacco, alcohol and drug use.

Self-talk! Talk to your self as you are your best friend! Keep it positive!

And, most of all, make some time for yourself. Find an activity you enjoy. Take a break by 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.

Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and 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. 

Debbie Posnien is executive director of the Suicide Prevention Network.