A few days ago, I talked about the importance of practicing gratitude during the holiday season. It is a time filled with joy and love, (and occasional stress), and expressing thanks is a way to make the most of it.
For some people, however, these six weeks are anything but cheerful. Rather than feeling gratitude and excitement for the season, worries over finances, reaching high expectations, and hectic schedules breed anxiety and exhaustion. Alternatively, feelings of social isolation and loneliness take hold, often leaving a person depressed.
If you’ve ever experienced similar emotions during the “most wonderful time of the year,” know that you’re not alone. What’s more, there are things you can do to avoid this holiday depression. So keep reading for 7 strategies to rediscover the season’s joy.
Let Go Of Perfection
I’m paraphrasing a bit, but the French philosopher Voltaire has a terrific quote, which reads: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” Often times we set the bar impossibly high when it comes to holiday expectations. We focus on all the minute details, and we worry about finding the “perfect” gift for everyone on our list.
Have you ever thought about why we do this? Why do we pile on the pressure?
Let’s think about the true “spirit of the season” for a minute – you know, the joy, love, and laughter that accompanies time with family and friends. I’m willing to bet that in your reflection just now, the “perfect” gift and “spotless house” were nowhere in the equation. Am I right?
We need to let go of the idealized holidays depicted in the movies. Instead, embrace what you have and what you do. Practice shifting your perspective; what you have and what you do is enough.
Get enough sleep
The holidays are full of excitement and activity, which often throws off our regular sleep cycle. Try and combat this stumbling block as much as possible by going to bed and waking up around the same time each day. There is a clear scientific link between depression and sleep deprivation, so set yourself up for success by getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
Make time for exercise
With extended overnight guests, an unending todo list, and a packed schedule, tensions can run high during the holiday season. Make sure you save room in your schedule for exercise to help burn off that pent up energy and frustration.
Exercise releases endorphins, gives you an energy boost, and also helps burn off those few extra Christmas cookies ;-).
So do yourself a favor, and incorporate regular workouts in your schedule. If you’re worried about spending enough time with family, include them in the fun! Head out for a walk, go cross country skiing, put on some ice skates…the winter is a blast when you enjoy the snow!
Be mindful of your light exposure
Believe it or not, light exposure can also play a big role in your mood. If you find yourself exhausted or depressed during the winter months, it might be the result of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) rather than the holiday blues.
There are different treatments for SAD, all of which focus on getting more exposure to light; you might simply spend some extra time outside in the sun each day, or you could use a therapy lamp to help boost your mood. Either way is a great option to help chase away the SAD.
Stick to a budget
Money is a major cause of anxiety and stress at any time of the year. When you have the pressure to purchase multiple “perfect” gifts, this tension only escalates. So before you do your gift and grocery shopping, create a budget. Then, stick to it.
I know this can be a real challenge. But I promise you’ll feel much better when that credit card bill comes at the beginning of the month.
Practice Self Care
I’ve already mentioned the importance of sleep and exercise, which are two cornerstones of self care. The practice shouldn’t stop there, however. With one of the busiest times of year upon us, it’s critical that we take time for ourselves to unwind and spend time alone.
Curl up with a mug of tea and a new book, try practicing meditation, take a yoga class, or cook a healthy meal. It’s so easy to put these things on the back burner, but I urge you to make them a priority.
You can’t pour from an empty cup, so take care of yourself first.
Reach out for help
For those suffering with depression, it is also important to reach out to others for help.
Sometimes that help might come from talking with a close friend or loved one.
These are people who can provide a valuable outside perspective, because they have seen you during your highs and your lows. They can listen to your struggles with a sympathetic ear, because they understand. And they can even help manage your anxiety by highlighting the bigger picture.
Sometimes, however, professional help is necessary. You’ve tried all of the above approaches, but you nevertheless find yourself feeling anxious, depressed, lethargic, or hopeless.
If this is the situation for you, there are several different ways to seek help.
Perhaps the most familiar is a psychologist, who is “trained in counseling, psychotherapy, and psychological testing — which can help uncover emotional problems you may not realize you have.”
There are also psychiatrists, who are doctors that “specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental or psychiatric illnesses.” They are also trained in medication prescription and “talk” therapy, which helps change a person’s behaviors or thoughts.
Along the same lines, there is also a growing interest in the practice of hypnotherapy, which is a form of relaxation therapy. Essentially, the practice uses guided relaxation and focused attention to help you explore the current challenges in your life.
According to WebMD, “The person’s attention is so focused while in this state that anything going on around the person is temporarily blocked out or ignored. In this naturally occurring state, a person may focus his or her attention — with the help of a trained therapist — on specific thoughts or tasks.”
I recently learned about this technique from a friend. She used hypnotherapy when going through a divorce, and she said it helped her better understand her complex emotions surrounding the experience. (If you’re interested in learning more about this approach, visit this link about the benefits of hypnotherapy.)
Social workers are another important resource. These specialists are highly trained in working with interpersonal problems; they help people succeed in their own environment and deal with difficulty among family and friends.
For further information about any of these professional resources, I recommend talking with your doctor, and checking out Psychology Today.
Holiday blues and seasonal depression are very real challenges. If you’re struggling to find the joy of the season, take some time to implement these strategies. And don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help when you need it. Sometimes simply talking it out helps relieve some of that sadness.
Have you ever experienced the holiday blues or seasonal depression? What are some ways that you rediscover the happiness of the season? Share your tips below!