The holiday season should be a festive one filled with social gatherings, family events, and an overall sense of happiness and gratitude. Unfortunately, the reality is that many people find this time of year extremely stressful and they overindulge in food, spending, and substances.  Family gatherings may not always look like the happy get-togethers sometimes portrayed on television and, as a result, many people experience symptoms of both anxiety and depression.

  • Here are five things that will help you avoid the holiday blues:
  1. Stay Balanced
  •  Avoid overindulging in food, drink, drugs, and spending. Take some time each day for yourself and get plenty of sleep.  Think about what thoughts or situations can throw you off balance. Perhaps crowds, too much social contact or those uncomfortable family gatherings adversely affect your mood.  Learn to identify your personal symptoms of stress so that you can take prompt action and protect your mood.
  1. Remain Socially Connected
  • The holidays can sometimes simply be overwhelming, especially if we are experiencing too much social contact. Despite the urge to withdraw it is critical to remain connected to that small circle of social contacts that constitute your support system. It may simply take reaching out with a quick call or a text to express that you are feeling tired or sad. Many people are reluctant to let others know they are uncomfortable or in pain, but almost everyone feels happy when they can be there for a friend. They may not have a solution (you may not want them to suggest one!) but just being heard is therapeutic.
  1. Manage Expectations
  •  We can sometimes add stress to the holidays by not managing our expectations well.  What are your specific plans for Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve? It’s best not to wait until the last minute to make plans simply because what actually happens may not match your expectation of what the experience should be. If you anticipate conflict at a family gathering you may want to decline the invitation, or bring along a friend. Be aware of special pitfalls the holidays hold for you and create a plan to deal with them well in advance.  Finally, remember that communicating your needs is important for a pleasant and meaningful holiday season. If you need time alone, declare yourself. If you need company, reach out.
  1. Manage attitudes
  •  Negative mindsets frequently occur during the holidays. Become aware of some of your own patterns from the past. Perhaps you sadly remember the last holiday you had with someone who has passed, or you may not be able to be with someone special this year.  Actively counter these negative thoughts with positive, affirming ones. Creating a brief gratitude list can often neutralize negative moods. Plan some “corrective mechanisms” that can get you back on track. These might include taking a nice, long bath, a walk out in nature, a drive to look at holiday lights, or a quiet evening at home watching a Christmas classic. Take care of yourself.
  1. Move out of yourself
  •   Perhaps the single biggest trap during the holidays is simply getting too wrapped up in yourself. Taking a break from your problems and concerns may be therapeutic for you and helpful for someone else. Giving and receiving are what the holiday spirit is really all about. Take some time to volunteer during the season. Do something for someone else. Sponsor a disadvantaged family’s Christmas dinner or work at an organization that serves those in need during this season.  Getting out of yourself is an extremely effective way to elevate your mood and be or service at the same time.
  •            There is no doubt that this season can be tough for many people but with the right tools it can be the special time of year that it should be for all of us. Happy holidays!