We are well into the holiday season and its a busy and fun time for most with thoughts of getting together with family and friends, attending holiday parties, giving gifts and just reveling in the spirit of the season. Although this is a joyous time for most, there are a lot of people for whom its the most difficult time of the year. This is true for those who suffer from depression which is all too common with the World Health Organization estimating that 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression and this is only those who have been formally diagnosed.
The feelings of depression are magnified by watching others making fun holiday plans and spending time with loved ones in the face of social isolation. These feelings are not limited to those with depression but also to those who have recently lost a loved one, those who are dealing with chronic disease, those who have lost their jobs and are under financial strain and those who are dealing with the end of a relationship, either a breakup, separation or divorce. Although the holiday season can be a difficult time for such people it does not have to be this way.
Here are some tips on how to manage holiday blues:
1 Do not hold yourself up to other people’s standards. You may see others making plans, attending parties and making vacation plans but this is all about appearances. You have no idea what those people are truly experiencing below the surface. They may actually feel empty and isolated themselves and what they present to the world is just a facade. Now, they may actually have deep feelings of joy and love for those they are spending time with but this is not the point. The point is that you are your own individual and experience the world in your own way based on your personality, your personal history and life experiences. This is why you should not compare yourself to others, especially during the holidays.
2 Look after yourself. What do I mean by this? Get enough sleep which should be at least 7 to 8 hours for the average adult. Eat healthy foods. Its easy to binge on desserts and alcohol over the holidays but these will only give you temporary pleasure and you will crash emotionally after their effects wear off. Instead focus on eating more vegetables, especially greens, fruits including berries, seeds, nuts, legumes and lentils. If you do eat meat, make sure it is lean, free range, grass fed and raised without hormones and antibiotics. Engage in a regular exercise routine to increase your heart rate and work all the muscles in your body. Looking after yourself in this way is one of the main ways you can improve your overall mood.
3 Spend time in nature. Although the world we live in is, for the most part, unnatural, we all once lived in a state of deep connection to nature if we explore our ancestry. Nature is the source of all our nourishment, physically, emotionally and spiritually. By spending time in nature, we start to rekindle that deep connection which we once had when we lived in harmony with nature and this improves our overall sense of joy and well being. This practice can be as simple as talking a walk in a park of just sitting in quiet contemplation in a natural setting. This should be done on a regular benefits to repeat the benefits that it provides.
4 Express gratitude. Although you may be depressed or have suffered the loss of a loved one, a relationship or a job, everyone can find something to be grateful for. Expressing gratitude is one of the best ways of creating happiness and abundance in one’s life. What I recommend is to keep a gratitude journal and write down 3 things that you are grateful for that day. This is not just a practice for the holidays but for the entire year. If you do this on a regular basis, it has the potential to transform how you experience your life.
5 Reach out and connect to others. Even if you are lonely and don’t have a lot of family or friends, everyone has someone who they can reach out to. Call up an old friend or an estranged family member and plan something simple like meeting for a coffee and catching up. If you feel that you have nobody who you can reach out to and don’t want to engage superficially in the holiday party scene then volunteer. You can do this at a soup kitchen, a local toy drive, a children’s hospital, an organization that helps people with special needs or any number of other venues.
This will reinforce to you that no matter how down you are, there are those who are not as fortunate as you are. By volunteering with organizations that help those in need, you are not only providing a valuable service out of the goodness of your heart but are cultivating an environment to foster connection with others. Connection is the essence of relationship which helps to alleviate the feeling of social isolation which is the one of the main reasons behind holiday blues and depression.
To summarize the main points to deal with holiday depression, do not hold yourself up to other people’s standards, take personal care of yourself, spend time in nature, express gratitude and reach out and connect to others which includes volunteering. The holidays should and can be a time for joy and rejuvenation no matter what your circumstances may be.
Nauman Naeem MD FCCP FRCPC