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How to Deal with Stress and Depression During the Holidays

Understanding the holiday blues

Highlights

  1. Seasonal depression is more common than you may think. About 14 percent of Americans experience the “winter blues.”
  2. You may be having a bout of seasonal depression if you feel like simple activities are more difficult than normal.
  3. You can ease your symptoms by making a few lifestyle changes, such as limiting your alcohol intake and scheduling time with friends and family.

The holiday season can trigger depression for a number a reasons. You may not be able to make it home for the holidays, or you may be in a rough financial situation. If you’re going through a difficult time, it can be tough to see others with extra joy in their lives.

Seasonal depression is more common than you may think. Approximately 14 percent of Americans experience the “winter blues.”

These blues can be especially overwhelming during a time of change. Christmas and New Year’s Eve often present challenging demands, from never-ending parties to family obligations. These events can come with higher levels of stress.

If you’re dealing with feelings of stress or depression, know that you aren’t alone. There are ways to manage your symptoms and get the help you need.

Learn more: The psychology of the holiday blues »

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom of the holiday blues is amplified depression. This is true of people who may or may not being dealing with depression already.

You may be experiencing a bout of seasonal depression if you feel like simple activities are more difficult than normal. This includes getting out of bed, making dinner, and taking a walk.

Other symptoms of the blues include:

  • feeling more tired than usual
  • losing interest in things that used to bring you joy
  • having trouble concentrating

9 ways to manage the holiday blues

There are many things that can contribute to the holiday blues. Whether it’s something as simple as overscheduling yourself or a deeper emotional need, it’s possible to work through your feelings and start anew.

Here are nine ways to deal with the holiday blues:

  1. Limit alcohol – Limit your alcohol intake, and try not to keep it readily available around your house. If you’re attending a party and you know alcohol will be accessible, limit yourself to one or two drinks. Drinking to excess can affect your mood and amplify any negative feelings that you may have.
  2. Get plenty of sleep – Try to go to bed at a specific time each night. Being well-rested can improve your mood and help you feel ready to take on the day.
  3. Learn to say “no” – Overscheduling and not making time for yourself can lead to emotional breakdowns. Learn how to say “no,” and stay firm on your decision.
  4. Be open to new traditions – You may have an image of what you think the holiday should consist of, and this may not be what’s actually happening. Instead of holding on to what the holiday should have been, allow new traditions to unfold.
  5. Get support when mourning a loved one If you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be especially tough. Although it can be tempting to isolate yourself and grieve, it can be beneficial to spend time with your friends and family. They can support you through this difficult time.
  6. Spend time with your loved ones – Instead of spending the holidays alone at home, get your friends or family together for a dinner party at your place. The more the merrier! You can spruce things up with lively decorations and add welcoming floral arrangements to your living spaces.
  7. Exercise regularly – Plug in your headphones and pop out for a walk around the block a couple of times a day. A quick 10-minute walk will get your heart rate up and release mood-boosting endorphins.
  8. Do something fun to get over a recent breakup – It can be difficult to be alone when you’re nursing an aching heart. Instead of sitting at home, fill up your calendar with activities. Websites such as meetup.com offer group outings, such as dinners and dancing, almost every night of the week.
  9. Avoid overeating – Before heading out to social events, fill up on veggies. You can even fill up a small sandwich bag and snack in the car. Holiday outings can often lead to overeating, which can affect your mood and overall well-being.

The holidays can be an especially difficult time for older adults. If you’re unable to be with friends or family this holiday, look for volunteer opportunities that allow you to be around others. Some non-profits will even come pick you up if you’re unable to drive.

Dealing with post-holiday depression

If you’re still feeling depressed after the holidays are over, you may be dealing with more than just a case of the holiday blues. You should speak with your doctor about your symptoms. They can help you determine the cause and develop a treatment plan.

What you can do now

The holiday blues are real and can disrupt your life in a serious manner. You may be able to ease your symptoms by making a few lifestyle changes, such as limiting your alcohol intake and scheduling time with friends and family. If lifestyle changes aren’t relieving your symptoms, you should speak with your doctor.

You may also benefit from prescribed antidepressant medication. The side effects of these medications can vary, and you may need to try out a few different brands before settling on one that works well for you. If you find that medications do not lessen your depression, your doctor can work with you on other treatment options.

Keep reading: 4 lessons about handling holiday depression from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” »

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Ask the Expert: Treating Depression
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