Flipping the calendar to November kicks off all of the anticipation, joy and fun of the two-month holiday season. But those same occasions can trigger feelings of sadness and depression, whether it’s about the looming winter, the prospect of uncomfortable gatherings or not feeling like we have much to celebrate. Even if we’re glad to see the arrival of the season, going in with the wrong mindset can leave us disappointed.
We got some tips from wellness counselor Anne Parker of Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa on how to avoid holiday depression.
1. Be careful of expectations. Expectations about how things “should be” are dangerous, particularly at holiday time when activities and events feel even more significant. “Remember to focus on the things that you can actually impact and let go of the expectations about things you can’t control,” Parker says.
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2. Keep up your exercise routine. With gift-buying, decorating and planning trips, it can be tempting to move your usual exercise routine to last place on your to-do list. However, this is the time when it is most important to make sure you are exercising regularly. “Exercise will keep your energy level up, release tension and support a positive mood,” Parker advises. “Exercise is the No. 1 way to keep melancholy at bay!”
3. Don’t fight the sadness. As the year is coming to an end, being around family and friends can actually become a time when sadness and grief are deeply felt. “This is normal, and you need to be gentle with yourself about this,” Parker says. “Fighting the feelings or judging yourself for having these feelings just gives them more strength.” Letting your sadness co-exist with the happiness surrounding the holiday season can keep them from overwhelming you. Writing is a great way to acknowledge what you are feeling and move the energy in a positive way, Parker suggests.
4. Start new traditions or transform old ones that are no longer meaningful. We often cling to traditions as a way of attempting to stay connected to “the way it was” or “the way it should be.” However, if old traditions are no longer meaningful or just don’t fit current circumstances, they can become a source of stress and conflict. Transform those old traditions to honor what is meaningful while creating something that fits what is important to you now.
5. Limit your sugar intake.Sugar is abundant during the holidays, a time when we can easily justify a calorie splurge. But it can spike your energy, followed by a moody crash. Skip desserts like cookies and pies to avoid sugar-related highs and lows — reach for a piece of fruit instead, which has fiber that keeps your metabolism steady.
6. Easy on the alcohol.Even though alcohol can have the effect of loosening us up, it is actually a depressant, Parker reminds us. “Alcohol consumption has a rebound effect on mood that is similar to sugar and can increase your melancholy and feelings of negativity.”
7. Get enough sleep.This basic self-care habit is absolutely critical to ward off depression — it is also an easy thing to cut back on when the holidays are in full gear. Make sure you’re giving yourself adequate time for nourishing sleep.
8. Set priorities.Or, in other words, don’t sweat the small stuff! “Focus your attention and energy on what is most meaningful and congruent with the holiday experience you want to create for yourself and others,” Parker says. “Putting pressure on yourself to have all the details and minutiae perfect is a quick way to plunge yourself into frustration, anxiety and a negative mood.”
9. Stay connected.All the obligations and endless to-do lists of the holidays can be overwhelming and lead you to lose touch with what supports you the most. “Be careful not to isolate yourself or withdraw from life — people, activities, animals, nature, God, spirit,” Parker says. “That disconnect creates the opportunity for sadness, regret and disappointment to take over.”
10. Enjoy the moment.Allow yourself to be fully present and engaged with holiday happenings. Focus on what is happening and how to fully enjoy what you have instead of dwelling on how you wish things could be. “If you are truly present, you give yourself the opportunity to discover, play, connect and enjoy!”