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How to Keep Your Spirits High During the Upcoming Holidays

For some, "it's the most wonderful time of the year," filled with family get-togethers, good food and time to sit back and reflect on all there is to be thankful for. But for many, the holiday season brings with it stress, anxiety, sadness and despair, leading to a full-blown case of the holiday blues.

"A lot of people around the holidays want to have everything perfect. When it's not, it causes them stress and anxiety," says James Conti, a psychologist with the Memorial Health Care System in Hollywood, Florida.

Remember, your holidays don't have to be "picture perfect" to be joyful and memorable.

In fact, the "season to be jolly" is anything but for millions of Americans. "People get burned out and wish the holidays were over," says Dr. Jeffrey Brantley, director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at Duke University's Center for Integrative Medicine.

The holiday blues can be brought on by a variety of factors, according to the National Mental Health Association, including:

  • Stress

  • Fatigue

  • Unrealistic expectations

  • Over-commercialization

  • Financial constraints

  • Inability to be with one's family and friends

  • The demands of shopping, parties, family reunions and houseguests

Holiday blues can encompass more than feelings of stress and sadness. Loneliness, uncertainty about the future, self-evaluation and reflection on past failures often surface, leading to symptoms like headaches and difficulty sleeping and reactions such as excessive drinking and over-eating.

As a result, a full one in five Americans worry that holiday stress could affect their physical health, says the American Psychological Association.

Keeping Your Spirits Bright

If you know you have a tendency to feel blue around the holiday season (or after January 1, when all the excitement ends), these tips can help you ward off stress and keep your spirits high.

Set Realistic Expectations. As the saying goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day." Neither will be your "perfect" holiday. Try not to set all of your expectations on just one day, but rather try to experience the holidays a little at a time over the entire season. Don't be afraid to say no, and be liberal in delegating tasks to friends and family who want to help. Taking on too much is guaranteed to send you down the path of anxiety, not gaiety.

Leave the Past Behind You. Dwelling on the "good old days" can bring up feelings of loss or wanting for things to be how they used to be. Embrace changes and find a way to enjoy the season as it is now. Starting a new tradition is a good first step.

When "Holiday Blues" May be Depression

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, you should seek professional help if you experience five or more of these symptoms for two weeks. If you have thoughts of death or suicide, seek help immediately.

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood

  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism

  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed

  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions

  • Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping

  • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain

  • Restlessness, irritability

  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

Donate Your Time. Spending your time volunteering for others in need will help you share the holiday spirit and make you feel warm inside. Many people who volunteer report feeling a heightened sense of well-being.

Try Some Creative, No-Cost Activities. Engaging in simple holiday activities is a great way to enjoy the season. Try driving around to look at holiday decorations, caroling, baking cookies, decorating a gingerbread house, going for a brisk walk in a forest preserve or making a snowman.

Exercise as Much as Possible. "Don't worry about sticking to a regular regimen," says Howard Feldman, a clinical psychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital Center for Integrative Medicine in Chicago. "Just get anything in. That can be helpful and it's better than not doing it at all."

Avoid Overspending. According to a poll by the American Psychological Association, money issues are the top cause of stress for Americans around the holiday season. Try to make homemade gifts, give gifts of time or draw names so you only give a gift to one or two people.

Remember What Is Important. It's easy to lose site of the real meaning of the holiday season and instead get caught up in the more material aspects. Focus your efforts on family, friends and other values that are important to you personally.

Keep Time for Yourself. Having time to relax is essential to a happy holiday. Don't overlook this one!

When Holiday Blues Become More Serious

Feeling blue or anxious around and after the holidays is something many people face. But if the feelings persist or become overwhelming, you may be suffering from clinical depression.

"Mild or temporary depressive moods, sadness or fatigue don't usually require professional attention," said Mitchel Kling, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "However, if depressive symptoms last for weeks, and are accompanied by other symptoms such as difficulty enjoying activities that are usually enjoyable, it may be helpful to consult with a medical professional."

Recommended Reading

LINK TO THANKSGIVING FOODS article in this issue

Spending Your Money on Doing Things vs. Owning Things Will Make You Happier


National Mental Health Association: Holiday Depression and Stress

Americans Urged to Brace for Holiday Blues

'Tis the Season of Stress

University of Maryland Medical Center

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