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All Out of Holiday Cheer? 10 Tips for Beating Holiday Depression

All Out of Holiday Cheer? 10 Tips for Beating Holiday Depression

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.)

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    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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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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