“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” declares that lyric about the holiday time. Yes, perhaps for some holidays may conjure up those warm, wonderful images – wreaths hung on doors, laughter, homemade cookies baking in the oven…
However, for many of us, the holidays aren’t quite so jolly. Evidence (and my own clinical experience) indicates that during the holidays, there is an increased report of depression, stress and desolation for many.
It is unclear why the holiday season can feel so gloomy for many of us. Perhaps it is due in part to the seasonal changes; shorter and darker days and colder weather can be associated with winter blues or even seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Or perhaps it is due to the view that the holidays are supposed to always be joyous and cheery, when in fact they can be taxing and stressful. That perfect tree, those perfect presents, the perfect holiday meal – these unrealistic expectations of pulling together the perfect holiday set up for our loved ones can leave us feeling stressed and overextended. And of course, holiday get togethers can always bring out some of the more difficult family dynamics – it may remind us of some of the harder times of our childhood, bring up the pain of family estrangement, or conjure up the image of a dear loved one who is no longer with us.
Although each individual circumstance is different, there are some certain ways to combat those holiday blues and ensure a happier, healthier winter season for yourself. Here are some ideas:
- Set boundaries around exactly how many social obligations you will attend and also around your financial capacity to spend on gifts to limit your emotional and economic strain
- While you might feel a need to attend certain social or family events, be certain to balance them by being around friends who make you feel your best and happiest.
- Let go of unrealistic expectations of the “perfect” holiday and instead focus on gratitude for your own life, health and accomplishments.
- Continue with those healthy lifestyle choices you’ve been making all year – by being mindful of limiting your alcohol intake, eating healthy and continuing with your exercise plans! Exercising outdoors might be especially helpful; fresh winter air might be a welcome respite from being indoors, and the exposure to sunlight could potentially combat some of those winter blues
- Make sure you get enough rest. Research has shown that people do best on approximately 7 hours of sleep per night; your rest is especially important in order to maintain your mood and to manage a balance between your continued work and social obligations during this time
- Consider an evaluation for seasonal affective disorder, which is highly prevalent and can be debilitating for many. There are many non-medication ways to combat this, including light box therapy.
Seasonal changes and the holidays can often lead to an unhelpful and negative thinking style about ourselves, our self-worth, and negative reflections about our lives. If you feel that you need some additional support (You are certainly not alone if you feel this way), reach out to someone -family, friends, a counselor – who can listen to your concerns and help you.
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