Feeling the winter blues? Here are simple tips to deal with holiday depression.
The holidays might be the season of joy, but for many, the “most wonderful time of the year” can also bring on the blues.
A number of factors can trigger holiday depression, from financial worries to family stress. Even subtle changes to your diet or routine can contribute, as can the shorter, darker days of winter. If you don’t live near family, you might experience homesickness or loneliness. Ultimately, the holidays can be challenging, particularly if you already struggle with clinical depression or substance abuse issues. Thankfully, there are ways to improve your mood and mitigate their impact. Here are seven tips to help you.
1. Limit Your Social Media
A quick scroll through Instagram might make it feel like “everyone” is cooking gourmet meals and attending picture-perfect parties. With so many snapshots of joy, it’s hard to remember that social media rarely reflects reality. When you’re playing an unwinnable comparison game, you’re more likely to set unrealistic expectations for yourself. If you have struggled with substance abuse disorders in the past, these negative thoughts can set you up for relapse.
This holiday season, consciously limit your time online and focus instead on being present with family and friends. To reframe negative or unrealistic thoughts, consider counseling sessions with a therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy. Learning to slow down your thoughts and put your feelings in perspective can help you find healthy coping mechanisms, even if you can’t resist the urge to peek at your phone.
2. Maintain Your Routine
During the holidays, many people experience disruptions in their routines. Days off from work or school, late-night parties, and holiday travel can interrupt your usual schedule, and often cause you to miss out on sleep. These small interruptions might not have an immediate impact, but they can start to add up. The cumulative effect of a terrible diet, too much wine, and a lack of sleep can have you feeling down without necessarily understanding why.
Make an effort to maintain as much of your routine as possible. Head to bed and wake up at about the same time every day. If you usually work out on certain days each week, keep it up. By maintaining your routine, the holiday season will feel less disruptive. Remember, your physical health and mental health are often intertwined.
3. Reach Out
Social isolation can be a big factor in developing holiday depression. If you’re feeling down, connecting with others can help — even when you don’t feel like reaching out. If you don’t live near close friends or family, consider volunteering or joining a group exercise class. Although holiday depression may make you want to hide away from the world, making the effort to spend time with others will help you feel better in the long run.
Likewise, if you know someone who struggles with depression, make your own effort to reach out. Regretfully, when a person already feels disconnected, they may withdraw, causing them to spend more time alone. This can make feelings of depression worse. Isolation can also increase the temptation to cope with alcohol, drugs, or binge eating. An invitation to spend time together can make a world of difference.
4. Spend Time Outside
If you find that you struggle with depression throughout the winter, it might not be the holidays. Shorter, colder days with a lack of exposure to daylight can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which affects about 10 million Americans. If you suspect your mood is season-related, try to spend some time outside during the day. Even 15 to 30 minutes of sun exposure can improve symptoms of SAD. If you can’t get out into the sunshine, a lightbox can be a great indoor alternative. Fresh air and exercise can also improve your mood. Research by Harvard University shows that even moderate exercise can improve nerve cell connections, which can relieve depression.
5. Practice Meditation
Studies show that meditating for even 10 minutes a day can improve your mood, decrease anxiety, improve your circulation and lower your cortisol levels. (Cortisol is a hormone that spikes when you’re stressed.) You can find plenty of free meditation resources online, including podcasts, apps, and guided videos, but all you need to get started is a quiet place to sit and focus. Simply taking deep breaths and feeling present in the moment can give you many of the benefits of more advanced meditation.
6. Be Open About Your Struggle
You may want to keep your experiences with holiday depression private, but sharing your struggle with friends, family and even colleagues can make a big difference, particularly if you’re also recovering from substance abuse issues. When your social circle understands why you aren’t drinking, for example, they can be more mindful not to offer. Some may even join you in solidarity. Opening up not only gives you a sense of accountability, but it also helps build your support system.
7. Ask for Help
Sometimes, being overwhelmed can trigger holiday depression. If you find yourself struggling to keep up with the season’s obligations, don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends, family and colleagues. As you work through your priorities with others, you might even find that seemingly urgent tasks can wait, and others might not be so important after all.
Holiday Depression and Relapse
If you have struggled with drugs and alcohol, you may be particularly vulnerable to relapse during the holidays. Relapse can occur for a number of reasons. To start, alcohol and other substances may be more readily available, and those around you may be more inclined to imbibe than usual, making it feel OK to indulge. If you associate positive feelings with a substance, for example, using may also feel like a solution to holiday depression. All of these things can make it harder to resist temptation.
If you are in recovery, try to avoid situations where drugs or alcohol may be present. When you attend holiday parties, bring a trusted friend who can help you stay on track. Being aware of your mood and taking action when you start to feel down is also wise. You may want to make extra appointments with your therapist, go to more meetings, or enlist the assistance of friends and family members who support your sobriety.
If you do relapse or feel you may benefit from dedicated medical attention, you can find the support you need through professional addiction treatment. Inpatient programs allow you to focus fully on recovery, while outpatient programs give you the flexibility to return home in the evenings.
If you have thought about seeking help for an ongoing addiction, but haven’t yet taken the first step because of work obligations or a busy schedule, consider that the holidays offer an opportune window of downtime to simply heal. To learn more about your options, call the number below to speak with an experienced intake specialist.