The holidays are here–and everything is supposed to be perfect–right? Well, not exactly. That’s a common misconception that can often make things worse for folks who get the holiday blues. Yes, we all want to experience joy at this time of year. But putting unnecessary pressure on yourself and neglecting your mental and physical health can make things worse. The good news is that there are effective ways to manage holiday stress and depression. Your primary care doctor is an excellent resource for helping you regain control during this wonderful but challenging time of year.
Why Do We Feel Sad During the Holidays?
We need to acknowledge that the holidays are wonderful but can also be challenging and emotionally draining. According to the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of people report increased stress during the holiday season. When we acknowledge our negative feelings instead of trying to cover them up, it helps us relieve anxiety and tackle holiday depression head-on.
Under Pressure – Let’s face it: in our social media-dominated world, there’s even more pressure to achieve picture-perfect holidays. We see our friends and neighbors’ “highlight reels” and want to achieve perfection in our own lives. We feel overwhelmed as we struggle to do everything right, from finding the perfect gift to preparing the perfect meal. We may also have feelings of inadequacy when we compare ourselves to others, leading to negative emotions.
Money Trouble – We want to bring joy to our loved ones, and many of us grow up believing it’s all about the gifts. We may feel obligated to buy expensive gifts and take on travel expenses we can’t afford. The financial stress builds up, but we often can’t discuss it with family and friends.
It’s Supposed to Be Joyful – The media sends the message that the holidays are supposed to be about family togetherness and socializing. However, many people feel extra lonely during the holidays. We may be experiencing grief, going through a divorce or simply feeling disconnected. The sense of isolation may increase when it appears that everyone else is having a ball (even though that’s not the case). Those oh-so-joyful holidays can also be a breeding ground for family tensions. If you have complicated relationships with immediate or extended family members, there’s nothing like a holiday to ramp things up.
It’s Science – There’s a reason we don’t hear much about the Independence Day Blues. End-of-year celebrations coincide with shorter days and seasonal depression. Late fall often brings the onset of seasonal affective disorder, bringing depression and energy loss as the sunlight fades.
How Can I Manage Depression During the Holidays?
Acknowledging that it’s okay to experience negative emotions during the holidays is the first step. Once we do that, we can develop strategies for managing stress and sadness.
Keep Physical Health In Mind – Keeping our bodies healthy can help with our mental health. Stick to your exercise and nutrition routines. Select your holiday treats carefully, and don’t abandon your exercise program. Add healthy options to holiday meals, incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into holiday menus. Limit alcohol and drink plenty of water. Spend time outside–a neighborhood walk or day hike is perfect for clearing your head and enjoying the winter scenery.
Practice Mindfulness – Acknowledging negative feelings is an essential first step. Remind yourself that there’s no requirement to always feel happy during the holidays. Remind yourself to focus on the present and incorporate meditation into your daily routine. Celebrate the little things, and find joy in small, spontaneous moments. Consider adding a fun new tradition and ditching one that brings you down. Build alone-time/decompression into your schedule.
Focus on Others – Stepping outside yourself is an excellent way to find joy during the holidays. Sign up to volunteer–alone or with friends and family. Research shows that serving others boosts your mental health in addition to helping the people you serve. It is also an excellent way to make connections and combat loneliness.
Change How You Celebrate – Shift holiday activities away from traditional frameworks. Consider a walk or coffee with friends instead of a boozy holiday party. Find new opportunities to carve out one-on-one time with children and spouses. Keep things low-key and take time to catch up and be your authentic self. Talk about negative emotions–there’s a good chance others feel them, too.
Be Honest About Money – Set economic boundaries. Be clear with yourself and your family members about budgets and financial constraints. Don’t let others pressure you into financial commitments you can’t afford. So often, we cause ourselves stress trying to find the perfect gift, only to buy needless items. Instead, find creative ways to reduce the number of gifts you buy. Set a handmade-only requirement–or draw names with extended family to reduce the number of needless gifts exchanged.
Ask for Help – Consider meeting with your doctor. She may offer solutions or suggest a therapist/counselor if that’s not already part of your mental health regimen. A trained counselor can help you navigate challenging relationships and develop coping strategies. Many patients find virtual sessions especially helpful during the busy holiday season.
Got the Holiday Blues? Your Primary Care Doctor Can Help
Your primary care doctor may not be the first person you think of when it comes to coping during the holidays. But she’s an excellent resource for combating depression and promoting mental health all year long. At Norvinia Health, Dr. Ojha sees mental health as a vital component of overall well-being. We’ll start with the basics: a blood panel can check for everything from prediabetes to Vitamin D deficiencies. We’ll review diet and exercise goals and explore their impact on mental health. We can discuss medications that can help–either short or long-term. We also offer helpful behavioral health referrals as needed. Using all of the tools in her toolbox, Dr. Ojha provides evidence-based support to help you survive and thrive through the holiday season and beyond. Let’s get started.