How you can limit depression during the holiday season

Dr. Beth Goldman

| 3 min read

Do you feel joyous when holiday decorations go up and store windows fill with gifts? If you don’t, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. The holidays can be emotionally draining and financially overwhelming, and it’s not uncommon for people feel lonely, sad, anxious and depressed. So what can you do to limit these feelings during the holiday season?
  • Know it’s OK to feel what you feel: If you don’t feel as happy as you think you should, don’t fight it. Forcing feelings that aren’t there will only make matters worse, and there really aren’t any “shoulds” about it.
  • Seek sun and endorphins: If you find yourself feeling blue, be sure to get at least 20 minutes of sunlight each day. This isn’t always easy to do when winter weather hits, but do your best. Sunlight helps fight any chemical causes for your holiday funk.
  • Get enough sleep: When you don’t get enough sleep, your depression symptoms can be worse. Sleep deprivation exacerbates anger, irritability and moodiness. Aim for somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.
  • Help someone else: It’s hard to feel down while you are busy helping someone else. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, wrap gifts for unfortunate kids, or spend time with an elderly relative or friend. Instead of feeling glum you’ll find yourself experiencing what the holidays are really about: Giving to others.
  • Create your own traditions: Contrary to popular opinion, there are no rules for how you spend your holidays. So if old traditions bring up unhappy memories, start new ones. If you don’t have family, share the holidays with good friends. Don’t wait for them to include you; make them welcome in your home instead. If cooking a Christmas dinner feels like a drag, do brunch. If going to a synagogue or a church service dampens your spirits, have your own worship service outdoors, at home or wherever you wish.
  • Stay busy and avoid unstructured time: If you know the holidays are difficult for you, why not plan ahead and minimize your difficult feelings. Fill your calendar with fun events. Too much time spent alone may bring you to an old, familiar place: down.
  • Find time to exercise: Regular exercise is a powerful way to fight depression. Not only does it boost serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals just as antidepressants do, but it also boosts self-esteem and helps to improve sleep. Though it can be difficult over the holidays, try to find time to get 30 to 60 minutes of activity on most days.
  • Eat well – Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day will help you keep your energy up and minimize mood swings. While you may be drawn to sugary foods for a quick boost throughout the holidays, complex carbohydrates are a better choice. They’ll get you going without the sugar crash. Deficiencies in B vitamins can trigger depression so take a B-complex vitamin supplement or eat more citrus fruit, leafy greens, beans, chicken and eggs. Foods rich in certain omega-3 fats—such as salmon, walnuts, soybeans and flaxseeds—can also give your mood a boost.
  • Count your blessings: No matter what is happening in your life, think of the blessings you do have. Taking stock of all of the positives in your life — right here and now — can go a long way toward ending your “bah humbug” mood.
Photo Credit: Jo Christian Oterhals

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