It’s lovely to talk about the joys of the holiday season, but unfortun-ately, for many people, the holiday season brings up a whole slew of emotions, and not all of them are centered on peace and joy. Many people struggle with sadness, isolation, depression and anxiety at this time of year, whether it’s because we miss family members who are no longer here or who we can’t be with; because of problematic family relationships; because of overly high expectations; or because of fears of being judged poorly by others, to name just a few examples.
Even if we are fortunate enough to spend the holidays with people we love doing things we enjoy, we can still feel the effects of seasonal depression—which seems all the more difficult during a time when we pressure ourselves to be happy.
Whether you’re more prone to battle the stress of too much or the loneliness of too little, it’s especially important that we pay attention to our psychological health during the holiday season. Connecting with nature can feel difficult when the days are short and the weather is chilly, but you can ward off seasonal depression and fatigue by getting in some daylight time. Consider starting your day with a brisk walk or jog outside; just 10 minutes of sunlight can help boost mood and energy for the day. And it’s doubly important to get physical exercise at this time of year, as it can help manage both high anxiety and feelings of sadness, relieving stress and bolstering mood.
If you know you will be spending a day that’s important to you (Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Eve, for example) alone, plan ahead to fill that time. Many volunteer organizations are in need of extra help during the busy holiday season. Community centers or places of worship often host services, pageants and other activities on these days. Or if you’d rather not socialize, consider plans you can make at home. If you miss your mother who has passed away, spend the evening baking a dozen of her favorite kind of pie, then give them away to neighbors, friends or homeless shelters. It might help you feel more connected to your mom, and that you’re helping her legacy live on. If you know you will be sad to spend the holiday apart from children or grandchildren, think about connecting with them via video chat, making care packages to put in the mail for them, helping out with kids at a women’s shelter or doing something you love with a friend who’s also free.
If you have no holiday plans to speak of, consider shifting from the holiday perspective to a more ancient one: Honor this season’s traditional role as a time for relaxation, introspection and rejuvenation. If you can, take time off work and stay away from technology, allowing yourself to lose track of what time it is and what day it is. Let the days slow down. Focus on getting extra sleep, indulge in long walks, practice meditation or yoga, read a long novel and stare out the window, allowing both your brain and body to rest. Things don’t have to stay the same as they were in the past to be good—you can celebrate your own place in this world with no one else around.
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