For many people, last year’s COVID holidays were extraordinarily tough. For others, breaking from tradition (and steering clear of family strife) was a welcome change. No matter where you landed on that spectrum, you may find the impending holiday season doesn’t exactly spark the joy you wish it did, or maybe it even gets you feeling down.
You are not alone.
Financial stress, the pressures of social and family gatherings, high expectations for mirth and merriness, and plain old seasonal affective disorder create a rich holiday stew that for many makes the holiday season feel endless. It isn’t, thank goodness, but it sure does seem to stretch on for those who’d rather avoid it.
If you’re in the “just get through it” camp, you’re in good company, and you can minimize the holiday struggle.
Fight the urge to isolate.
Hey, nobody’s saying you have to go to every holiday party or spend time with family members who increase your stress level, but holing up at home has a negative impact on well-being. Reach out to understanding friends—bonus points if you also get some vitamin D and exercise by taking a walk together—or simply get out where you can see faces while you quietly sip a hot cocoa. Being among other humans tends to feed a deep human need for connection, which boosts your sense of contentment.
Huge amounts of research say the same thing: Exercise helps you feel better. In every way. Yes, no question: It’s more challenging to get motivated to exercise when you’re feeling blue. You’re doing yourself a big favor, though, if you overcome your resistance and get out for a walk, take a class (which will also get you around people!), find a home exercise option, or just do a minute of jumping jacks to see how it feels.
Whatever your starting point, it’s the right one for you, and it will get those good-feelie chemicals flowing. What’s more, movement tends to redirect challenging thoughts. Exercise isn’t just a two-fer, it’s a gazillion-fer that benefits brain health, digestion, heart health, mental health, and on and on and on.
Be reasonable about eating and drinking.
Maybe this one sounds like a buzzkill during the time of holiday cookies, eggnog, and parties, but hear us out. Alcohol may numb you out and make you feel more relaxed for a while, but the overall effect is to exacerbate negative emotions, depression, and anxiety. Likewise, sugar has been found to feed depression and anxiety. What a combo! Here you are feeling blue, and the very hallmarks of the season that’s causing it are making it even worse. It’s unfair and a real drag, but why not try keeping those indulgences to a minimum? You are likely to be surprised by how much better you feel, which is better than a hundred sugar cookies shaped like trees.
Find your zen.
“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed,” wrote the Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh. Quiet reflection and meditation may not just improve your mental health but help you focus on the positive elements in your life even during this stressful time. Human brains are wired to find what’s wrong—it’s important for survival—but they also contain the capacity for finding and appreciating what’s right. Or to again quote Thich Naht Hanh, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, and sometimes your smile is the source of your joy.” Work in 10 minutes (or more) of meditation every day and, if nothing else, you’ll at least have a calm 10 minutes of deep breathing, no social media, and a distinct lack of holiday stressors.
Know that relief is coming.
No matter your particular stressors during the holidays (and if seasonal affective disorder is on that list, light therapy might make a big difference), no matter how you choose to cope, the season does end. And when we all come out the other side, the days will be a little longer. In the meantime, find the coping mechanisms that feel right for you and just keep telling yourself that there is literal light at the end of this tunnel.
Get help if you need it. If you find no relief or if your holiday season has gone beyond blue to dangerously depressed, please seek help. You don’t have to try to get through it alone.