Avoiding the Holiday Blues

Christmas time is here…..

Did you know that 14 percent of Americans experience the “winter blues?”  Part of this is Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition related to not getting enough sun light. For that there are lamps that provide the spectrum of light needed to avoid depression. A company called Verilux makes a product called Happy Light just for that purpose.

But beyond that there is the issue of just dealing with the holidays.  The holiday season is hard on people for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps your family is in another state and you can’t make it home.  Or maybe your finances aren’t what you’d like them to be and you are feeling the pressure of that.  Maybe you lost a loved one or a significant other and this is your first Christmas without them. Or maybe there are family dynamics that you just find overwhelming: your mom doesn’t like your boyfriend; your family members eat and drink too much; your grandmother always comments on your weight; your husband hates your mother; your kids are going to the in-laws instead of coming to your house……the list goes on.

The point is, that it can be very stressful and for people at risk, downright depressing.  But it can also be joyous! It really is up to you.  You may not be able to control everything, but you can take steps to make it the most relaxing and spiritually positive time of year if you do a bit of planning and maybe take a few risks.

The biggest predictor of holiday depression is isolation.  So step number 1 is to be with other people.  As a therapist, I have found that most of my patients have people to spend time with, but they opt out of these activities.  They do not feel connected, so they do not try to connect.  That just makes the isolation worse.  However, when we develop a plan to be with other people as part of their treatment, and they follow through with the plan, they are almost always glad that they did.  It usually goes very differently than they imagined.  They just needed a little nudge.  Sometimes that is all that therapy is, a nudge in the right direction.

If you are away from family and friends, you may have to improvise. Most cities have meet up activities every night.  During the holidays, the activities are holiday oriented.  Join one.  Or throw a party of your favorite acquaintances.  Chances are you know other people who do not have local  family, who would welcome a gathering focused on good food, good conversation and some eggnog.

Here are some other things to consider to keep you safe and happy:

1. Learn to say “no” – Overscheduling and not making time for yourself, especially if you have a full-time job or if you are a full-time student, is almost as bad as isolating as it can lead to emotional breakdowns. Say “no,”  when you need to and stick to it. 

2. Limit alcohol – Alcohol is a depressant.  And it flows at holiday parties. Try not to keep it around if you are prone to using it to numb your feelings. It won’t really help.  If you’re attending a party and you know alcohol will be served, limit yourself to one drink.  Most DUIs happen on the holidays. 

3. Get plenty of sleep – Try to go to bed at a specific time each night. The earlier, the better.  The only time the body makes antioxidants (which fight free radicals – the things that age us and cause disease) is if we are asleep between sundown and midnight.  At midnight the body begins to age again.  Being well-rested can improve your mood and help you feel ready to take on the day.

4. Be open to new traditions – You may have an image of what you think the holiday should consist of, and this may not be what’s actually happening. I had to come to terms with not having my children and grandchildren for Christmas eve this year at my house, which has always been our tradition.  It was just too hard for them, with my daughter-in-laws crazy residency hours and the 1½ year old newest addition to the family.  So I am going to them on Christmas morning.

The important thing is to be with them, and not hold onto a tradition that although I truly love it, may not be practical, right now.  Instead of holding on to what the holiday should have been, allow new traditions to unfold.

5. Get support when mourning a loved one – If you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one or a significant other, the holidays can be especially tough. Although it can be tempting to isolate yourself, it is better to spend time with your friends and family, especially if they share in your loss. Seek professional help if you find yourself unable to cope. 

6. Spend time with your loved ones – Instead of spending the holidays alone at home, get your friends or family together for a dinner party or a brunch at your place. Have everyone bring something to minimize the expense and work.  Or get together with friends at a restaurant that serves a great breakfast and go to the zoo or a movie afterwards.

7. Decorate – You don’t have to go all out, but picking out a few beautiful things that represent the holiday will bring you joy every time you look at them.  I love to listen to Christmas music while I decorate.  It reminds me of my mom.

8. Exercise regularly – Plug in your headphones and pop out for a walk around the block a couple of times a day. A quick 10-minute walk will get your heart rate up and release mood-boosting endorphins. Or if you work out regularly, keep to your routine.

9. Avoid overeating – Before heading out to social events, I pull what I call a Scarlet O’Hara.  I eat before I go.  Try to fill up on your favorite truly healthy foods before you leave.  Most of my patients do the opposite thinking to have more calories to spare when they get to the party.  But because they didn’t eat all day they are starving when they get there and then they overeat. Unfortunately, most party food is not very good for you.  The last thing you need to do is feel guilty or end up with a food coma.

10. Volunteer – The holidays can be an especially difficult time for older adults. If you’re unable to be with friends or family, look for volunteer opportunities that allow you to be a support to others.  There is nothing more heart-warming than bringing joy to someone else.

11. Attend a Religious Service – If you practice a religion, this is the time to go, even if you are not as active as you have been in the past.  I often return to my childhood church for the candlelight service because it brings back such sweet memories.  

How do you know if you are experiencing significant symptoms of depression? 

Here are the most common symptoms:

  1. Feeling like even simple activities are difficult to impossible. This includes getting out of bed, making dinner, and showering.
  2. Feeling more tired than usual – even after sleeping most of the day
  3. Insomnia – being awake most of the night
  4. Losing interest in things that used to bring you joy 
  5. Having trouble concentrating
  6. Loss of appetite or bingeing
  7. Hopelessness and helplessness
  8. Unremitting anxiety – this isn’t the same as worrying, which usually has a focus. Anxiety is unfocused, negative, and may involve agitation, anger, or irrational beliefs

If you are experiencing depression or anxiety, before or after the Holidays, give us a call at 513 205 6543 to schedule an assessment today. From everyone at The Norton Center Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and may you be well in the new year!!


Dr. Renae Norton

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The Verilux “Happy Light” is a LED light therapy lamp that delivers a powerful 10,000 lux for increased energy, mood, focus and sleep. Go ahead and let your light shine all winter long!