Individuals who struggle with the symptoms of ongoing depression often find the holiday season difficult, but a bad case of the holiday blues can happen to anyone. Even if depression is not a common issue for you, the stress of shopping, family dynamics, time pressure, and money worries may still produce anxiety and depressive thoughts.
Fortunately, a little foresight and planning can bring joy into the holidays for just about anyone. It's not too late to be intentional about your mindset and to develop strategies to keep the season bright. Here are a few ideas help you let go of the bah humbug and embrace a little ho, ho, ho.
1. Make yourself the priority
Our holiday offering of gifts and thoughtful actions that show others our love and gratitude are well-intended, but often stressful to arrange. Couple that with the demands of everyday life and there's little time left for you. Still, if you don't engage in restorative activities, these stressors may seem insurmountable, causing you to be less productive and even exhausted. Make a list of things that help you relax so you don't have to think about it and put some "me time" on the calendar. there is always time for a massage or bubble bath.
2. Give up on perfection
The perfect gift, the perfect decorations, the perfect meals--it's all so much! Sure, we all want to make things special for those we love, but you don't have to do it alone. You certainly don't need to go beyond your limits either.
Choose the things you truly enjoy putting extra time into and focus on one or two of them. Remember that it's you your loved ones want to enjoy, and you will be much more fun to be around if you're not overwhelmed and exhausted.
3. Eat that cookie, but balance your diet
Like it or not, much of our holiday fun includes festive meals and yummy sweets. It's just not reasonable for most of us to think that we will abstain from these annual indulgences. Avoid stuffing yourself with refined carbs, only to neglect the healthier choices. Recently, researchers at Columbia University proved that refined carbohydrates in your diet can make you depressed, especially if you are a middle-aged or older woman. Know your tolerance level for refined carbs and be conscious of adding in heaping services of green veggies before you down the carbs.
4. Acknowledge your unhappiness
Memories of those no longer with us, loneliness, and things like negative holiday experiences of the past are bound to trigger sadness--even anger. These feelings are perfectly natural and are not unique to you. If you tend to bury or push away your negative feelings, it's highly likely that they will intensify, as depression and negativity thrive in resistance. Life happens and sometimes it hurts. Of course, you feel sad. Tell yourself that it's OK, allow the feelings in, and then turn your thoughts to something that brings you joy.
5. Get in your exercise
According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise eases depression by releasing feel-good brain chemicals, reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression, and increasing body temperature, which may have calming effects. This may conjure up thoughts of intense workouts at the gym, but even small adjustments to your routine will produce positive effects. Pick up your pace at the mall and take the stairs instead of the escalator. You may even consider doing a couple of laps around the mall before you make your purchases. If you normally workout, block out time on your calendar and keep it up.
6. Manage family conflict
If your family tends to be on the argumentative side, attend family functions with a few pre-planned methods for cutting down your stress. Prepare neutral responses to statements that push your buttons. Rather than engaging in the negativity, try statements like, "we can find a better time to discuss that," or "How about if we table that discussion for now?". If those don't work, excuse yourself to go do something more pleasant, like wash the dishes.
7. Lean on friends
There are times when you need someone to lean on, and holidays are at the top of the list for many people. Your friends may be busy with their own festivities, but a good friend will always take the time out to listen. Go ahead, give them a call. Always provide an opportunity for your friend to plan ahead for your discussion by asking them if they have a few minutes to chat now of if there is a better time in the day. Avoid the belief that you are disturbing them; if the shoe were on the other foot you'd want your friend to lean on you.
8. Get help
If holidays are extremely difficult, it's wise to get professional help. Three years ago, right in the midst of the holiday season, we learned of our mother's final stage cancer diagnosis. I knew that I could not handle the future loss alone (not well anyway) so I immediately found a grief counselor and an EFT practitioner to assist me through the grieving process. By the time my mom passed away eight months later, I could manage my grief in a healthy way. My decision to find assistance greatly changed my life. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help, it's a sign of great strength.