Five steps to survive the holiday blues

Guest post by Merry Noel Miller, MD

I was a Christmas baby, was given a Christmas-y name, and have always considered it “my” time of year. And yet this was the period of the year that I most dreaded after losing my husband.

millerThe holidays are supposed to be the happiest time of the year. But for many they are the hardest. For some they can trigger depression and anxiety.

For those who are alone, who have suffered losses, whose relationships are not what they want them to be, it can be very difficult to get through this “merry” time of year. They may long for holidays past, and feel surges of grief for those who are gone. Loneliness may feel more intense.

I hear it from my patients every year. Some feel sad that their lives are not what they want them to be. They compare themselves to others that they see around them and the idealized images depicted in the media. They wince inside as they hear others talk about their holiday celebrations.

Others are overextended both emotionally and financially at this time of year. They feel drained, exhausted, and eager for the holidays to pass. They may feel obligated to attend gatherings that they do not enjoy. They dread the possibility of family conflicts. They may feel inadequate as they encounter family and friends. They may eat too much, drink too much, sleep too little, and neglect to exercise.

Here are strategies on how to get through the holidays emotionally intact:

  1. Plan ahead. Seek balance between times with others and time alone. We vary in terms of what we need to refuel ourselves. Think about what your individual needs are. Avoid the urge to withdraw excessively, or the sense of obligation to do too much. Say no to invitations if you do not want to go, without guilt, and leave parties when you are ready. You have the right to make choices.
  1. Set limits on your spending, your eating, your drinking. Make a budget and stick to it. Be conscious about your diet and alcohol consumption. Many who are down are tempted to drink and eat more, and may temporarily feel better while drinking, but it tends to worsen the mood and can lead to depression.
  1. Make time to exercise. A daily walk can do wonders for your mood. If it is too cold outside, you could find indoor locations (e.g. the mall) where you could walk. Something as simple as a 30-minute walk can really boost your spirits.
  1. Reach out to others. Invite a lonely neighbor to do something with you. Consider volunteering. There are many others who struggle with the holidays, too, and you can get a boost from the pleasure of helping others. Don’t wait for others to approach you, let your friends and family know if you would like to do more with them during this time of year.
  1. Indulge yourself in healthy pleasures. Read that book you’ve been wanting to find time for. Watch movies during your off time. Consider taking a drive or a trip somewhere.

I have both personal and professional experiences that have opened my eyes to the emotional challenges that we face throughout our lifetimes. This motivated me to spend my life as a psychiatrist specializing in women’s mental health, and to write the new self-help book Finding Your Emotional Balance: A Guide for Women. During the stressful periods of our lives, we can find ways to keep ourselves balanced with some healthy strategies.

Merry Noel Miller, MD, is a professor of psychiatry at Quillen College of Medicine, East Tennessee State University and the author of Finding Your Emotional Balance: A Guide for Women.