The holiday season is thought of as a joyful time filled with festivities, family and fun. Unfortunately, for so many, this is far from “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Instead, it can serve as a sharp reminder of their loneliness and lack of connection with others. That’s especially true during the 2020 holiday season, while we’re learning how to foster togetherness without risking the spread of COVID-19. Limited travel and prohibitive gatherings makes this is a holiday season unlike any other, and one that will find many alone.
Under the best of circumstances, the holidays can be a stressful time of year. Many are already suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is magnified by stress. Mental health experts anticipate stress and its counterpart depression to be intensified this holiday season. Renee Exelbert, Ph.D. of The Metamorphosis Center writes; “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought up many feelings related to lack of control, anxiety, and uncertainty. Add to that the stress some experience in navigating their relationships with family, and you have a perfect storm.”
Having meaningful relationships with others is an essential part of our overall health and well-being and time with our loved ones can help defend against feelings of loneliness and depression. But this holiday season, spending time spent with others can be viewed as potentially dangerous. As a result, plans have had to change, holiday traditions are on hold, and gatherings this year will be small, if at all.
Regardless of your unique circumstances, there are effective ways to combat stress and depression by gaining a sense of control over your holiday experience this year. You’ll find our top tips for navigating these challenging times below.
Tips to Manage Holiday Stress and Depression
1) Have a Plan: Now is the time to replace longing for what was, with an acceptance of what is. Amy Morin, LCSW, of Very Well Mind emphasizes the importance making a plan, saying; "Develop a plan for how you'll spend the holidays ahead of time, even if it means staying home and watching movies by yourself. Knowing what you're going to do can remove some of the dread and ease your loneliness if you're going to be alone."
2) Limit Your Sugar Intake: Sugar is linked to inflammation, which is linked to mood disorders. Sugary foods and drinks contribute to depression, so curb your sweet tooth to keep your spirits high. Instead, focus on eating healthy whole grains, fruits, and veggies to get the energy your body needs every day.
3) Moderate Alcohol Use: It isn’t always clear if depression causes drinking, or vice versa. But, it’s a fact that many people turn to alcohol to "drown their sorrows.” Be cautious with your consumption of alcoholic drinks. Alcohol is a depressant and any amount can actually work against you, making you more likely to get the blues.
4) Move Your Body: Exercise is a reliable approach to lift depression. As little as five minutes of physical activity can enhance your mood, and regular exercise can reduce stress and the symptoms of anxiety. Exercise improves your health by decreasing blood pressure and heart rate, controlling weight, strengthening muscles and enhancing immunity. Gentle exercises like walking, yoga and dancing are best for reducing stress and lowering the high cortisol levels it can cause.
5) Embrace Creativity: Art and creativity unites us all. It spans across continents, generations, and millennia. As individuals, expressing ourselves creatively nurtures and soothes the soul and lifts the spirits. It’s a wonderfully relaxing meditation with a tangible work of art to show for it. And, you may just discover a new hobby that brings you great pleasure and enjoyment.
6) Practice the Spirit of Giving: ‘Tis the “season of giving” and nothing can lift your spirits quite like lifting the spirits of others. Just the simple act of showing support to others through genuine care and compassion can literally change and save lives. Finding ways to be of service creates a fulfilling sense of connection, belonging and value deep within, and is an expression of the true spirit of the holiday season.
7) Stay Connected to Others: We all long to feel connected to those we love, and socially distancing can create feelings of isolation and loneliness. While we can’t share hugs this year, or physically come together around the table, we can stay connected by reaching out to friends, family, co-workers and even strangers. Make a spontaneous phone call or schedule a video chat to stay connected as best you can.
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