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Mental Health During the Holidays

Hint: it's not caroling.

Hint: it's not caroling.


By Emily Chiu, Redbook

If you get down around the holidays, you’re not alone. Even with all the holiday cheer and decorations—or maybe because of them—a lot of people suffer from depression this time of the year.

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, can be a big contributor — lack of energy, change in appetite, and inexplicable feelings of sadness or hopelessness can all be symptoms, which occurs for most people during the fall or winter seasons and fade as the weather warms with the coming of spring. But the weather isn't the only thing to blame — people tend to feel lonelier around the holidays when the pressure of having a picture-perfect holiday surrounded by loved ones weighs heaviest.

I'm no stranger to that lingering sense of sadness. Here are a few things that I do to combat those feelings — they just might work for you, too:

Surround yourself with the people you love (or even people you just like).
More and more, we're moving away from the traditional idea of what the holiday season means and creating our own definitions. Don't have a tight-knit family that you're excited to visit this season? You can absolutely spend the holidays with friends. Friendsgiving is a thing, so why not Friendsmas or Frienukkah or...Fwanza? (Okay, some of those names need work, but you get the idea.) Whether you have a untenable relationship with your relatives, your family is far away, or you don't have one at all, find a way to surround yourself with those who make you feel happy if the idea of being alone this time of year is too much to bear. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask a friend if you can join their family or friend group — just don't forget to bring a nice dish or a thoughtful gift to show your appreciation.


Eat your favorite comfort foods.

It’s cold, and you’ll probably be craving carbs. And that's okay. Allow yourself to enjoy a few of your favorite dishes. If you become overwhelmed by a whole batch of cookies or an entire pie, invite some friends over so you can all dig in together. Everyone loves free food, and the company might be a welcome mood boost. Plus, there are plenty of ways to indulge in your favorite sweets while staying mindful of your health.


Stay physically active.

It’s a well documented fact that exercise produces endorphins, and endorphins make you happy. It's just science, plain and simple. And although it’s so, so, SO much more comfortable to stay in bed while you’re suffering from depression, try to squeeze in a tiny bit of physical exercise if you can manage. This doesn’t have to be a 5-mile run or even a dreaded visit to the gym—even doing some push-ups and lunges in your living room can help. Start off nice and easy, and if it helps you feel better, you can ramp up your home workouts in a manageable way.


Go outside.

Make time for one of your favorite winter activities or work your way up to exercising outside if you can. Even simply going outside for some fresh air and a brief walk can help clear your head. SAD can be mitigated by exposure to sunlight, so try to get a little bit every day. Even sitting by your window can do wonders if you can’t bear the frigid temperatures.


Be kind to others.

Helping others helps you feel good, too — so try volunteering. Volunteers are in particularly high demand around the holidays, when many needy people feel the sting of the holidays deeply. Lend a hand at a food or clothing drive or try serving at a soup kitchen to see how giving back can affect your own mood. And no matter how you're feeling, do your best to be kind to those around you. There are many people out there who are also suffering from holiday depression and being considerate towards one another can help more than you might imagine.


Take time to be alone and recharge.

Yes, all these suggestions are about doing things and being around people and pushing yourself to be an "active participant." But it's also important to balance these efforts with your own personal need for recuperating. Don’t feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to do or anything that will make you feel uncomfortable. Do try to push your boundaries and comfort zone just a bit, but take a rest and carve out some alone time before you feel like you have overexerted yourself. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm yourself and be put off for the rest of winter.
depression, health, holidays, mental health, wellness

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Health & Fitness: Mental Health During the Holidays
Mental Health During the Holidays
Hint: it's not caroling.
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