For some people, the holiday season is not the most wonderful time of the year. Especially during the global pandemic, many people are feeling more isolated, lonely, and vulnerable to the “holiday blues.” Stress can set in as things begin to pile up and the to-do list gets longer. Dread can form at the thought of being around that family member who knows how to push your buttons. Or maybe this is the first Christmas after the death of someone you loved.
Research has shown that over 14% of Americans experience holiday depression every year. For those with preexisting mental illnesses, 64% report that their conditions worsen during the holidays. Holiday depression can disrupt your life and limit your ability to enjoy the wonders of winter. While it can become easy to throw yourself into busyness, remember to take care of your body and mind through a balance of activity and rest. Here are five ways that you can help prevent or reduce seasonal depression this year:
1. Set Realistic Expectations
It’s okay to be excited about the festivities, but be careful to not overcommit, get stuck in perfectionism, or hold others to too high of a standard. Remember to slow down and give yourself a chance to rest so your body and mind can recharge.Don’t fall into the toxic habits of comparing yourself to others and people-pleasing. It’s also okay to set boundaries in relationships. You can create memories and traditions with new people when others have let you down or can’t be there to celebrate with you.
2. Practice Saying “No”
It can feel like everyone is asking for your time, money, or energy. Agreeing to every invitation and “small favor” can leave you feeling drained. Understanding that saying “no” is okay can help you avoid burnout and seasonal depression. Instead, take time to mark something simple off your to-do list or just make some hot cocoa and decompress with a good book or show.
3. Limit Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol is a depressant and can elevate any negative feelings or sadness you may be experiencing. If you feel that over-drinking could be harmful to your mental health, consider limiting yourself to one or two drinks during your holiday parties and other social gatherings.
4. Spend Time with Loved Ones
Social isolation can be a major risk factor for depression. While it can be hard to find the opportunities to be with large groups of people while COVID-19 is still active, be intentional about spending quality time with those you care about, even if it’s over Zoom. Seek out others during periods of grieving, especially if this is the first holiday season without a loved one, if you have just gone through a divorce, or if you’re bearing other difficult personal circumstances. There is a comfort that only human interaction can bring when holiday depression tries to take hold and the urge to push others away is the strongest.
5. Exercise Regularly
Just like your physical health, your mental health can be strengthened and refreshed through physical activity. Grab a pair of earbuds and head for a 10-minute walk around the block a few times a day to boost your endorphins, which will naturally help improve your mood (and help you avoid feeling guilty about the big holiday meals).
This winter, prioritize your mental health when seasonal depression threatens your joy. At K21, we seek to provide resources that will help you keep yourself and others healthy. For more wellness-related resources, visit k21healthfoundation.org.