Updated: Jan 1
The holiday season is upon us and while many people call it the most wonderful time of the year, not everyone would agree. The holidays can oftentimes bring feelings of loneliness, stress, and social anxiety due to many triggers you may be exposed to.
Dr. Gail Saltz, M.D. also points out that some people live with seasonal depression, which is a disorder that is triggered by the season itself – not necessarily the holiday. Consequently, feelings of depression, loneliness, and added stress are intensified when there is a lack of sun exposure due to shorter days.
To help you better enjoy this time of the year and cope with holiday blues, here are a few suggestions on how to avoid potential triggers.
Set aside time for self-care. While you may be busy shopping, wrapping gifts, cooking, baking, attending gatherings, and all that comes with the holidays, make sure to schedule in time for self-care and make it a priority. Activities as simple as taking a nap, reading a book, watching a show, or going out for coffee can help you de-stress, restore peace, and basically help you get through it all.
Get enough sleep. Apart from doing activities that help lift your mood and keep your peace, make sure to get plenty of rest every night since this can greatly aide in keeping you energized, alert, and reduce feelings of sluggishness. Studies have shown a link between lack of sleep and depression, so you will want to be extra selfish with your sleeping time during the holidays.
Setting boundaries. There can be multiple parties and various tasks that you are asked to take care of, and it is important that you get comfortable with cutting back on commitments. Over-scheduling yourself can lead to feeling overwhelmed and possibly even an emotional breakdown. Learn to set boundaries and say “no” to things you cannot and do not want to commit to.
Embracing new traditions. As we get older, the holidays may start to look more and more different. It may have been fun, light, and great as a child, but a little more complex and busier as an adult. It helps to not have a fixed image of what holidays should and should not be. Instead, soak in the moment for whatever it is and let new traditions unfold.
Spend time with people. For those spending the holidays away from loved ones, find people you are comfortable with and spend time with them. If that is not an option, you can look for organizations in need of volunteers so you can be around others. It may not be your usual crowd but it is always a great idea to be around good-hearted people. Studies also show that being of service to others in the form of non-profits and volunteering can help alleviate symptoms of depression.
Release those endorphins. Everyone knows a quick workout can really help lift your mood and make you feel ready to take on the day. Having this time for you can also be therapeutic. Take 30 minutes out of your morning for a quick walk, run, yoga session, dance session, or other forms of exercise you prefer.
Avoiding conflicts. Although his is a time for reconnecting with old friends and having multiple family gatherings, this can understandably be difficult for some people since it increases the chances of conflicts arising especially when dealing with conflicting personalities. In order to not add it to your list of stress factors, be ready with a neutral response, a change of topic, or even a reason to excuse yourself. You can say you need to use the restroom, help out in the kitchen, make a phone call, or other things you think are fitting.
Refocus your energy. For many people, it can be stressful spending a lot of time around family members that you do not have a great dynamic with – something that happens quite often during the holidays. If you are placed in a situation that is stressful, focus on everything that does not stress you out. It’s okay to let things be less than picture perfect, it’s okay if things feel a little off, what is important is to put your energy on what brings you peace.
Limit social media time. Holidays or not, the use of social media has been repeatedly linked to feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Advertising campaigns featuring happy couples plus updates of happy moments from your peers can make you feel like everyone else is doing great while you are the only one not having a swell time - in reality, these are all just highlight reels.
If your work demands more media time, then perhaps it is best to practice ways that prevent it from having power over your thoughts and feelings.
Get more Vitamin D. Sun exposure is said to increase the amount of serotonin your brain releases. This in effect improves your mood, helps you feel calmer, and keeps you focused. By getting enough time under the sun, you can help prevent feeling tired, irritable, and sad. You may also want to talk to your doctor about taking a Vitamin D supplement.
Make plans unrelated to the holidays. If a lot of your stress factors are tied to holiday obligations, it could be a great idea to do something that has zero connection with it. Understandably, it could be difficult to avoid it all together given that public places have all sorts of decorations and music sticking to the theme. However, making plans that do not involve gift giving, celebrating the season, or preparing for family gatherings can help you take a breather.
We suggest trying out activities you have never done before, this way, you focus more on yourself and the moment rather than what time of year it is.
Dealing with post-holiday depression
After being hit with holiday blues, they don’t always go away the moment life gets back to normal routine. However, if even after a week or so you are still feeling its impact, this could also be a sign that you are dealing with more than just that.
Speaking with a therapist about what you have been going through, the feelings you try to manage, and what symptoms you are having can help you better understand where it is all stemming from and how to prevent or reduce future triggers. Feelings of depression are very real leading up to, during, and shortly after the holidays, it is never a bad time to ask for a little help and guidance.