What You Can Do to Beat the Holiday Blues
The holidays traditionally signify good cheer shared among gladly received guests, but the winter months may also signal the arrival of a few unwelcome visitors: depression, anxiety and stress. While familiar radio jingles and festive decor may inspire the holiday spirit, the season also imposes many taxing demands, such as event planning and gift shopping for family and friends. Conversely, for those who don't have a strong social support network or who may have recently lost a loved one, the winter's longer, colder nights may heighten feelings of loneliness and bereavement. As mental health remains a topic of public concern—the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that one in five adults will suffer from mental illness each year—it is important to understand how you can try to identify and beat the blues this time of year.
Recognize the Signs
There are several clues that may telegraph a person's struggle with depression, though the common thread among them is any sudden, drastic change in behavior or mood. Reclusive behavior, anger and irritability, especially if displayed without a previous pattern of similar tendencies, may be symptoms of depression. If, for example, a person who is generally sociable, responsive, and physically active withdraws from their friends and family, ignores phone calls and messages, and confines themselves to their home, they could be battling issues that warrant the intervention of a mental healthcare professional. Other signs and symptoms of depression, as identified by the National Institute of Mental Health, are:
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness;
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities;
- Moving or talking slowly, or alternatively, feeling restless or having trouble sitting still;
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions;
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping.
Control What You Can
There are proactive steps anyone can take to help stave off the feelings of sadness and stress that the holiday season can bring. It may be tempting to retreat away from people when your mood is melancholic and the weather is less than ideal, but you should resist the impulse to seclusion. Spending time around people—whether in an intimate setting with loved ones or around others at the movies, a bookstore, or your favorite café—is a simple and effective curative for loneliness and a longing for company. Additionally, participating in a group activity like volunteering at a toy drive or food bank will keep your mind occupied, provide you with a sense of community belonging, and reassure you of the impact you have on others' lives.
A healthy body is another avenue towards happier holidays. Like the impulse to self-isolate, you should fight the urge to stay sedentary during the winter months. “A body in motion stays in motion, so your exercise regimen need not be the most physically strenuous or challenging; a short walk around the block or a yoga session in the park will help you get in better shape, get better sleep, and get your mind off of the things bringing you down,” says Antonio Escobedo MD, an internal medicine physician at PIH Health. “Try to practice restraint at the holiday party snack table as well, as overindulgence can contribute to feelings of stress, guilt and disappointment.”
For more information on the nature of depression and what you can do to combat it, read our Healthy Living Online related posts.
If your mood consistently worsens despite your best efforts to improve it, you may benefit from professional help. Consult a primary care physician for an assessment and possible referral. To find a PIH Health physician and schedule an appointment, please visit PIHHealth.org/Find-a-Doctor.