Tis the season to be merry or not

The holidays are a time to look forward to happiness, peacefulness, fellowship and harmony. It is a time of celebrations and gatherings with family and friends. However, the season can also trigger anxiety, stress and depression or what is often called the “Holiday Blues.”

So, how do you beat the holiday blues?

Preparation can minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays. You may even enjoy the holidays more than you thought you would. Know your patterns of behavior, especially if you have experienced losses around this time of year or recently, have a history of becoming down during the holidays or a history of a mood disorder. We have a tendency to not take care of ourselves physically or emotionally during the holidays. Listed below are tips on getting ahead of the “Holiday Blues”.

#1 Keep your regular routine: A change in routine can lead to additional stress. Try to exercise at your usual time, go to meetings that you normally go to and stick to as normal a diet as possible.

Take a breather: Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

#2 Think moderation: While it may be easy to drink and eat too much at parties and special dinners, we should try not to overindulge with food and/or alcohol.

#3 Don’t abandon healthy habits: Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.

#4 Try not to expect the “ideal” holiday: So many of us have an idealized version of what the holidays should be like and are very disappointed when the season doesn’t live up to those expectations. Try to be realistic, remember, nobody has a perfect holiday or perfect family. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.

#5 Don’t be alone, if you don’t want to: Stay connected! If you anticipate spending the holidays alone, volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Make sure to leave time to spend with friends and/or family who value you.

#6 Throw guilt out the window: Try not to put unreasonable pressure on yourself to be happy, to rejoice, or even to enjoy the holidays. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings.

#7 Plan ahead: Organize your time. Set your priorities and stick to them. Identify specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. This will help to prevent heighten anxiety and scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. Make sure to ask for help for party prep and cleanup.

#8 Focus on today, not yesterday: There’s something about being with family and old friends that makes us become who we were and not who we are. When you find yourself reverting to old childhood patterns when with family, try to walk away for a minute and remember who you are now. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.

#9 Just say no: It’s OK to say NO when you’re asked to do more than you can.

#10 Stick to a budget: Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.

Know your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to dysregulation or conflict. With positive thinking and planning, it is possible to navigate through the holidays and find some enjoyment. Remember you are in charge of you this holiday season!

Karen Cooke, LISW-CP, is manager of clinical therapies with the Prisma Health Department of Psychiatry.

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