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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 November 18, 2020

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)
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    It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been two months since you’ve seen the inside of the gym. Getting sick, family crisis, overtime at work and school papers that needed to get finished all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
    Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to the gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to climb back on that treadmill after you’ve fallen off.

    1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
    2. Reward Showing Up – Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is showing up.” I’d argue that 90% of making a habit is just making the effort to get there. You can worry about your weight, amount of laps you run or the amount you can bench press later.
    3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
    4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes.
    5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
    6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
    7. X Your Calendar – One person I know has the habit of drawing a red “X” through any day on the calendar he goes to the gym. The benefit of this is it quickly shows how long it has been since you’ve gone to the gym. Keeping a steady amount of X’s on your calendar is an easy way to motivate yourself.
    8. Enjoyment Before Effort – After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep going to the gym.
    9. Create a Ritual – Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
    10. Stress Relief – What do you do when your stressed? Chances are it isn’t running. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphin which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence.
    11. Measure Fitness – Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
    12. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a thousand dollar machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
    13. Isolate Your Weakness – If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the gym? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
    14. Start Small – Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
    15. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.

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