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As fall exits the scene and winter takes center stage, many people experience an increase in holiday stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues, otherwise known as the holiday blues.
There are parties to host or attend, decorations to be setup, gifts to purchase, traveling to be done, and time spent with family and friends.
All of it is supposed to be accomplished with a cheery attitude and a heart overflowing with (pardon the rhyme)…gratitude.
In reality, holiday obligations and the winter months can feel overwhelming. As if this time of the year wasn’t already emotionally taxing, the lack of sunlight can contribute to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Also known as winter depression, seasonal affective disorder is a very real condition that an estimated 10 million Americans suffer from every year. While the causes may differ from the holidays blues, the symptoms for each are similar.
Symptoms of the Holiday Blues
The holidays affect everyone differently, and while many people find plenty of joy in the season, others become withdrawn and try to avoid being around others, particularly those with known mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.
Common Symptoms of the Holiday Blues Can Include:
- Feelings of loneliness or isolation
- Being irritable or angry for no particular reason
- Exhaustion or increased fatigue
- Desire to withdraw from family or friends
- Lack of interest in normally enjoyable activities
- Difficulty making decisions or concentrating
- Sleeping more than usual, or at least wanting to
- Avoiding planned commitments
- Feelings of sadness from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, hence the name holiday blues
Mental Health Tips for Beating the Holiday Blues
Avoiding the holiday blues requires awareness and a proactive approach to maintaining a healthy and balanced state of mind.
Here are 10 mental health tips anyone can use for avoiding or decreasing the stress and anxiety of the holiday blues:
1. Learn to Say No
There’s no point in attending every party or event if it’s going to cause undue stress. Instead, pick one or two enjoyable things to attend and graciously decline the others.
Simply say you have other events to attend and you’re stretched too thin to make them all.
2. Spend Time With People You Enjoy
This isn’t always as simple as it sounds, but avoiding toxic family and friends, or at the very least limiting time spent around them, can be a huge benefit to one’s mental wellbeing.
If you must spend time with those that push your buttons, be cordial and try to minimize the time spent at the event. These are good times to double-book events on the same day so you have a real reason to excuse yourself early while still saving face by showing up.
3. Act Responsibly
If you plan to drink alcohol, make sure to use a ride share like Uber or Lyft, take a cab, of find a designated driver. In fact, take turns with others to be the designated driver throughout the holidays.
Knowing you’re not putting yourself and others in danger eases stress and anxiety and allows you to have more fun when attending events.
4. Do Everything in Moderation
As difficult as it can be during the holidays, learning to not overindulge will help keep your sanity in check and your stamina high. It’s all too easy to drink or eat too much, especially during a time of the year when it’s so socially acceptable.
Overindulging zaps our energy resources, can lead to hangovers, bloating, poor sleep and, as a result, feeling bad about ourselves.
Doing things in moderation keeps stress and anxiety at bay and helps to avoid being depressed the day after the events.
5. Maintain a Healthy Routine
As much as possible, maintain a healthy routine from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. It’s usually not easy with so much going on in November and December, but if possible support good mental health with the following:
- Keep a regular exercise regimen
- Get restful sleep each night
- Find time to meditate
- Make a point of practicing self-care
- Practice mindfulness and be fully in the moment with everything you do
6. Don’t Overspend
Money is one of the biggest stressors in life, and especially around the holidays. Spending more than you have can lead to excessive amounts of anxiety in the moment and depression after it’s all over.
Take an honest look at your budget and only spend what you can afford. If that means making gifts for people or simply writing thoughtful notes, the people who love you will cherish whatever you give them.
Material things are nice, but spending quality time with others is what matters the most. Having a special photo enlarged and framed doesn’t cost a lot money, yet it provides a memorable gift that can be enjoyed for a lifetime.
If you must spend money, do so with presents for the kids. The adults will understand.
7. Don’t Isolate Yourself
While some people might stress over time with family and friends, others may feel like they have no one to spend time with.
If this is case, look for opportunities to be around others, such as volunteering at a local food bank or homeless shelter.
Giving back during the holidays is an excellent way to spend your time and keep a healthy perspective on life.
8. Avoid Drama and Conflict
Avoiding drama and conflict is especially important in family settings. The people we love the most are often the hardest to be around.
If issues arise at a gathering, take steps to defuse the situation early on or, better yet, don’t get involved in the first place. This is a good time to stay away from political arguments, unless of course, you all share the same views.
If all else fails, simply spend time with the kids instead of the adults. They’re usually more fun and they do wonders for our mental health.
9. Be Practical
Don’t expect the holidays to be the most special and meaningful time of the year. If things don’t go as planned, which is usually the case, there’s no need to get upset or sad if we have reasonable expectations going in.
Setting the bar low and exceeding expectations can be a wonderful gift for everyone.
10. Identify Your Triggers
A trigger is something or someone that causes us stress, anxiety or sadness. This may be an unruly uncle, an old hangout or anything in between.
Knowing our triggers helps us avoid unnecessary stress and make healthier decisions.