What To Do When Your Holidays Aren’t Merry and Bright

Submitted by: Unity Care NW

It’s the holiday season, and the general message this time of year is that people should be filled with joy, merriment and happiness. The unfortunate reality is that it’s not uncommon for people to feel anything but these feelings during the winter months. When the message we are inundated with goes against what we really feel, this can pile on to the feelings we are already having.

If you aren’t feeling holiday cheer, you’re not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health, 14 percent of Americans suffer from some form of depressed mood, ranging from mild to serious.  It’s not just the holidays. At this time of year, the days are short, and we long for light and sunshine. Then there are all the expectations of the holiday season. We feel that we’re supposed to be joyful. We want to please – or at least not disappoint – friends and family. There can be financial stressors, and we may feel lonely if we are not able to spend the holidays with loved ones. At the same time that we’re rushing to get everything done at home, many of us are also rushing to get everything done at work before end-of-the-year deadlines or taking some holiday time off.

If you’re feeling down or depressed, what should you do? Here are a few tips:

  • Get plenty of sleep: Rejuvenating sleep can improve your mood and energy. Try to go to bed at the same time each night, avoid snacking or heavy meals in the evening, and remove as much blue light as possible from your bedroom, by removing cell phones, Ipads, TV’s and other light-emitting electronics.
  • Don’t get too much sleep: When feeling down, it can be tempting to stay in bed all day. This can actually make things worse. Try to wake up at the same time each morning. Have a plan of what you will do in the day and work to get up get yourself ready, and begin your day.  Even if you feel like staying in bed, the routine, activity, and getting out can help immensely.
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity can increase your energy and give your body a boost of endorphins to improve your mood.
  • Limit alcohol intake: Too much drinking can affect your mood and worsen our holiday blues.
  • Avoid overeating: Too much heavy holiday food can make you feel sluggish and result in weight gain.
  • Get plenty of sun and light: Research suggests that exposure to light affects the brain to improve sleep and mood. So get outside on a sunny day. Turn on the lights. Fluorescent lights, in particular, can help, or consider getting an inexpensive light therapy box, which mimics natural light.
  • But know when to turn off the lights. Regulated restorative sleep, and regulating your sleep/wake cycle are vital in fighting depressed mood. Certain types of light tell the brain it’s time to be awake, while other types of light tell the brain it’s time to sleep.  At night, turn lights off, avoid heavy use of electronics, including cell phones, computers and television. Utilize light like fires, candles and light bulbs that have more of a red glow if possible. These types of light mimic fire and help the brain calm down.
  • Pace yourself and lower your expectations: Expecting a level of superhero strength and energy from yourself is a recipe for failure. Be realistic about your time and energy and be ready to say “no” when needed. Then divide up your to-do list into achievable chunks to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  • Volunteer: If you’re feeling lonely, get involved. Give the gift of your time and yourself to a local organization or charity. You can receive a feeling of connection and belonging in return.
  • Try something new: If the holidays bring with them unhappy memories or you feel constrained by the traditions of holidays past, do something different. Try a new activity or create a new family tradition. Take the time to slow down and find whatever it is that nurtures you.
  • Be with others: Being social may be hard, because being around others may be hard for a variety of reasons, or we may not have many people in our lives. Despite difficulties, we are wired to be with other people. Even if you don’t have many people, being in a public place and chatting with the person near you can help.
  • Be kind to yourself and others: When feeling depressed, it is easy to beat yourself up. This only makes things worse. Remove the ideas of how you “should” or “want” to be and focus your attention to being loving and kind to yourself in how you are, even if it is not how you want to stay. Being kind to others is also a gift to yourself. When we give and help other people without desire for thanks or anything in return, we release a chemical in our brains that makes us feel happier. Look around and see who needs help around you and see how you can help them. In the process you will help yourself.
  • Seek help: Most importantly, seek help if you are feeling depressed. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength and hope.

Depression that lasts over a longer period or is something you experience each year may indicate a more serious health challenge, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder. If your winter moods linger, talk to your health care provider about counseling or treatment for a healthier new year.

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