Last week, I embarked on a 3,000 mile journey to California with my 13 month old son to celebrate Thanksgiving with family. A long layover in Dallas, hours on a plane, and emerging molars left my typically easygoing son less than thrilled for a (thankfully) small portion of our stay. Yet, the crying and whining was so incessant one night, that it took a dose of ibuprofen and a drive around my sister’s neighborhood to get him settled.
Eventually I was able to put my sleeping baby to bed. Yet, something in my heart tells me that it wasn’t just the medicine and motion that eventually calmed my son. As my sister graciously drove us around the neighborhood, I watched him as he stared at the dazzling Christmas lights strung around palm trees and glittering wreaths adorned with ornaments. Wicker deer and illuminated candy canes captured and held his attention so much that the crying eased and tears slowed. The medley of sights seemed to ease his mind as much as it did mine. It could just be my love for the holiday, but I like to think that he was old enough to feel the almost tangible magic and spirit that fills the air so much this time of year.
Not everyone finds comfort or takes pleasure in the holiday season, however. Work deadlines, shopping sprees that deflate wallets, and a host of family functions and other events can bring stress and depression to an otherwise happy individual. Shorter days and less sunlight often contribute to feeling tired and gloomy. For some individuals, a certain sense of regret may surface as another year closes. Perhaps it was another year stuck in a unfulfilling job, or maybe they had meant to make amends with family members or friends. The end of a year can signify a time of missed opportunities.
Whatever the cause of holiday blues or stress, no one is ever alone. Severe depression often requires psychotherapy, pharmaceuticals, or a combination of both. However, if it is merely a transient case of the holiday blues, some easy steps can be taken to help cope.
Watch Your Alcohol Intake
While a couple of rum and eggnogs or glasses of Cabernet can ease stress and liven up the party, consuming more alcohol than what your system can handle can actually have a depressant effect. Essentially, alcohol slows the messages travelling between your brain and body. “Hangovers” after copious amounts of alcohol can leave you feeling tired and sick. There is also some research suggesting that excessive amounts of alcohol can suppress the immune system and put an individual more at risk for developing colds and other infectious diseases. Alcohol may seem unavoidable this time of year and difficult to pass up, but try and steer clear of excessive amounts.
Some tips for handling alcohol at parties or functions may be to alternate your drink with water or club soda. This can hydrate you and also help if you feel like you need to have a drink in your hand. Another option is to go with a drink that has a lower alcohol content, such as a wine spritzer (half white wine, half seltzer) or light beer.
If you do get caught up in the festivities and imbibe a bit too much, make sure to stay hydrated with plenty of water or even an electrolyte replacement beverage.
Limit Social Media
Limiting time spent on social media can be difficult, especially if you’re too busy to catch up with friends the old-fashioned way or have loved ones who live far away. Social media is an excellent outlet to stay connected or even be inspired by others. However, being “too connected” can carry some pitfalls.
Sometimes, scrolling through the seemingly picture perfect lives of others can spiral an already depressed person into a deeper funk. It’s only morally “right” to be happy for others, but maybe seeing a dozen wedding announcements when you’re still single or the pictures of newborns if you been having difficulty conceiving can make you feel worse, especially this time of year. We are only human after all. However, remember that people will post what others want to see, and not necessarily what is going on behind closed doors. Everyone – no matter who you are – has their own problems.
Social media can also be distracting, taking away from meaningful family time or true relaxation. After all, it is the latter that keeps us in good spirits and truly engaged in life. Getting too caught up in other people’s lives can shift the focus away from improving your’s.
You may think you don’t have enough time to volunteer, however even just an hour or two can help put life into perspective and force evaluation of the issues that are causing stress or depression. These issues may seem smaller compared to other people’s, and it may be easier to let them go. Donating time and energy for the good of others can also elevate your mood and raise self esteem, as well.
Do a Diet and Exercise Check
The winter months can force us into a primal “hibernation”, driving us indoors and increasing our appetite for rich, hearty meals. While temptation awaits in our family room luring us to the television set on cold, wintry days, it is still important to get your heart pumping. A brisk walk with sunshine and fresh air can do wonders on your mood and increase those “happy” neurotransmitters.
Poor nutrition can also cause feelings of sluggishness and fatigue. If you just can’t stomach a salad on cold days, try making hearty soups loaded with vegetables like carrots and beans. A large batch can be made early in the week and used for lunches or even froze for later.
A diet low in essential elements, like iron and magnesium, can also play a role in feeling tired and blue. Iron carries oxygen from our lungs throughout our bodies. Magnesium is a crucial mineral to our body’s function – most importantly, it facilitates nerve transmission and energy production. Supplements and vitamins can help, or perhaps try a smoothie with vanilla almond or cashew milk, spinach, and berries as a healthy morning start.
Remember the Reason for the Season
Whatever your religion or beliefs may be, the holiday season is a channel to reflect on the important values of life. The love of family, enjoyment of life’s pleasures, taking time to relax and reflect, generosity – these are the holiday’s finest and truest moments. Looking at the big picture can help you get through an otherwise stressful time.