20091224-depressed

While the holiday season fills most people with joy, a significant number of people get down in the dumps around Christmastime. The reasons are plentiful: remembering lost loved ones, a bad experience during the holidays, loneliness, or just being overwhelmed can all dampen the Christmas spirit.

It may surprise you to know that depression is actually less likely during the holidays than at other times during the year (see for example this research) but that hardly helps if you’re one of the unlucky ones. And while full-blown clinical depression drops off around this time of year, plenty of people are struck by “the holiday blues”, a general feeling of sadness or listlessness that is a specific reaction to the forced festiveness of the season.

If you find yourself feeling a little down this Christmas, try one or more of the following tips:

1. Throw an “orphans” party.

Being alone during the holidays can exacerbate existing feelings of depression and even cause them, so if you’re facing the prospect of a lonely Christmas, gather up your single friends and anyone you know whose family is far away and have a party. You’ll be doing yourself and them a favor.

2. Get active.

The winter months are a time of lowered physical activity, which in itself can make you feel lousy – especially combined with the attendant weight gain and lack of sunlight. Go sledding or skiing, take a hike (wilderness areas can be particularly beautiful this time of year), or just bundle up and take a long walk. The fresh air, sunlight, and physical activity will do you good.

3. Start a new tradition.

One big reason people get wistful this time of year is that the traditions they’ve always practiced remind them of people who are gone – friends and relatives who have passed away, romantic partners that we’ve broken up with, or just family that’s far away. For really recent losses, you need to grieve properly, but for more distant losses, or plain old homesickness and nostalgia, there’s a time when it’s appropriate to abandon old traditions and replace them with new ones. Don’t forget those close to you, but break the association between the holiday and your loss.

4. Have a salad.

The fatty, sugary, and salty foods that make up a big part of traditional holiday eating can all make us feel sluggish and mopey, even if we have no particular reason to feel down. Add a few extra pounds and there’s another downer. While holiday treats may be unavoidable this time of year, try to eat them in moderation (we often eat when we’re depressed) and balance them with super-healthy choices that will make you feel good about yourself.

5. Avoid the liquor.

Just like holiday treats, alcohol is everywhere this time of year. Supermarkets are stacked high with holiday gift sets, parties feature egg nog and spiced wine, even the cookies have rum in them! Alas, alcohol is a depressant and if you’re already tending towards depression alcoholic beverages can speed up the downward spiral.  Try some juice, soda, or a “virgin” drink (a mixed drink with the alcohol left out) instead.

6. Find a “Blue Christmas” service near you.

Many religious denominations are adding “Blue Christmas” services to their schedules, recognizing the special need to minister to those for whom Christmas is too much to bear. Many of these services are stripped of the cheerfulness of traditional services (as the pressure to be cheerful is often the last thing people grappling with depression need) and focus on aspects of the nativity story dealing with strength, triumph over adversity, and tests of faith. Many religious groups also offer counseling services, regardless of a person’s faith, which are generally free of religious pressure.

7. Embrace imperfection.

The holidays put a lot of pressure on us to do everything just right, whether we’re decorating our house, preparing a holiday dinner, or planning a night out. Try to lower your expectations to a realistic level – something more akin to every other day of the year. Take minor setbacks in stride, and leave the stress for another day.

8. Get some light!

Artificial light is no substitute for sunlight, but neither is sunlight at this time of year (unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere, of course). Christmas is, after all, one of the shortest days of the year. Brighten the rest of the season by installing a few full-spectrum lights (like these compact fluorescents that can replace any standard bulb) and opening your curtains during daylight hours. (And see #2 above.)

9. Volunteer.

Depression often comes with a feeling of uselessness, so make yourself useful by volunteering. There are plenty of worthy causes that need a hand this time of year: shelters, toy drives, food pantries, animal shelters, and lots more. Think about staying on, too – you might just find your vocation!

10. Practice personal productivity.

Stress is a killer this time of year, and personal productivity is intended first and foremost to minimize stress. Make lists, delegate tasks, break big projects into small tasks, and take things one at a time. You can get through this!

Do you have any tips for our readers about dealing with the holiday blues? Lend a helping hand in the comments!

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