Not feeling very merry, bright, or joyous this season? You’re not alone. The fact is, many people feel sad, anxious, lonely and generally burned out during this time of year. And the reasons vary, from geographical separation of loved ones and financial hardships to the imposed pressure to get into the holiday spirit when you just don’t feel like it. For some, the low feelings can extend into “post-holiday let-down.” This can result from disappointments during the preceding months compounded with the excess fatigue and stress, not to mention the credit card bills starting to roll in!
On top of it, many people living in regions with limited sunshine can suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), caused when reduced sunlight triggers a chemical imbalance marked by a nosedive in moods. With a little self-care and planning, however, it’s possible to beat the holiday blues. Try these tips:
Set realistic goals for yourself. Figure out what you can and cannot do and don’t put all the pressure to feel festive on just one day (Christmas or New Year’s). Keep in mind the sentiment of the season and spread it out over the weeks.
Don’t dwell on the past. If holidays of yesteryear trigger uncomfortable feelings—or you pine for the good old days when you reveled in festivities that no longer exist in your life—create your own traditions. Celebrate the holidays in a new way. Each season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. If you don’t have family, for instance, invite friends over to share dessert or brunch.
Do something for someone else. When you gift others with your time, whether it’s wrapping toys for unfortunate kids, sitting with an elderly relative or lending a hand at a soup kitchen, you may discover the true joy of the holidays.
Fill your calendar with fun events. The idea is to stay busy and avoid unstructured time, especially if being alone or idle brings you down. Better yet, spend time with supportive and caring people. Or contact someone you’ve lost touch with for a while.
Look for free activities. Life offers many gifts this time of year that will not break the bank, yet provide memorable experiences. Nature centers are free and often have special holiday events, for example. Or take a drive to gaze at holiday lights, or walk a moonlit trail with your family or friends, stopping to sip cocoa from an insulated jug. Remember, one of the best free activities is exercise! Whether you’re indoors or outdoors, physical movement can help stoke the feel-good brain chemicals that can lift your spirits in a relatively short time.
Increase your exposure to sunlight. Or check out light therapy (brief exposure to artificial light boxes), which may help relieve the depressive symptoms of SAD.
Save some time for yourself! If the whirlwind of holiday activities leaves you spent and feeling a bit empty, recharge your batteries! Carving out quiet time is ideal for reflecting on all the positives in your life and on those things that make you feel grateful. Is it a neighbor who always greets you with a smile and wave? The ability to taste a hearty soup? A furry friend that nuzzles you no matter what? A library book that gives you comfort on a chilly night? A friend who texts you something to make you chuckle? Take stock of the simple joys—they may not come in shiny wrapping paper, but keeping them top of mind can help chase away the blues.
Don’t hesitate to get help
If your sadness persists, or your sleep or appetite is affected. contact your physician or visit the National Mental Health Association at www.nmha.org for help and guidance.
If you are thinking about suicide, call your health care provider immediately or call 911.