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5 Tips For Coping with Holiday Depression

We’ve all heard it, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” But is it really? For most, the holiday season is filled with social gatherings with family and friends. However, the holidays may be filled with sadness, loneliness, and anxiety for others. Holiday depression affects some more than others. Unfortunately, many people are unable to gather with their loved ones during the holiday season. 

Depression may occur at any time of the year. However, the stress and anxiety during the holiday months may cause even those who are usually content to experience loneliness and a lack of fulfillment. Some may refer to this as the “holiday blues.” Holidays can be a time when grief, family disputes, financial stressors, and transitions trigger depressive symptoms.

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When do the holiday blues become depression?

An Asian senior man lies awake in bed

Clinical depression is generally defined as sadness or anhedonia (lack of pleasure from previously enjoyable activities). It persists more than two weeks, co-exists with other symptoms, and is severe enough to interfere with normal day-to-day activities. Individuals who have recurrent depression or have a personal history of major depression, may develop holiday depression. These individuals should watch for signs of a depressive episode and seek professional help. According to the National Institute on Aging, common symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness, or having trouble sitting still
  • Loss of interest in once pleasurable activities, including sex
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Eating more or less than usual, usually with unplanned weight gain or loss
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease with treatment
  • Frequent crying

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How to fight off holiday depression?

An older Asian woman is seen running in the woods in autumn

We can improve our mood by practicing self-care during the holidays. Eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a regular sleep pattern and exercise program helps. According to the American Psychological Association, exercise alleviates chronic depression by increasing serotonin, the neurotransmitter targeted by antidepressants. Another theory suggests exercise helps improve sleep, which is known to improve brain health

In addition to getting the proper amount of sleep, exercise and eating healthy, here are a few more tips to reduce stress around the holidays:

1. Acknowledge your feelingsAn older senior woman sitting on a couch looks upset out a window with a Christmas tree in the background

As many of us will be spending the holidays separated from our loved ones due to the pandemic, you may have feelings of sadness, grief or depression. It’s important to acknowledge those feelings. If you’re feeling sad, it’s okay to cry. Just because it’s the holiday season, it does not mean you have to be happy. As well, be honest with yourself and how you are feeling. From there, you can take action.

2. Reach out
A senior man looks distraught while on the phone

If you’re feeling lonely this holiday season, don’t hesitate to reach out to your community, friends and family. Ask to schedule a video call with a family member or friend. Don’t hesitate to chat about your emotions and feelings. They may be able to offer support and companionship. You can also try reaching out to your community. Many have online websites and social media pages where you can connect with the community around you.  In addition, you may even be able to volunteer virtually in your community. 

3. Set realistic expectations and create new traditions
A senior couple wearing Santa hats video chat with their grandchildren for the holidays

Coping with the holiday blues can be challenging. However, it’s important to understand that the holidays may not be the same as they were in years prior. If you can, try and set realistic expectations for yourself this holiday season. For example, if you are unable to meet with loved ones due to COVID-19, try something new. Maybe you can schedule a virtual holiday celebration with family and friends. Show your loved ones how to make a special recipe or participate in a virtual gift exchange. In addition, set a realistic budget on how much you will be spending. Try not to go over your budget and remember that money doesn’t buy happiness. Although the holidays will be different this year, you can find new ways to celebrate. 

4. Stick with healthy habits
A senior couple wearing Santa hats snack on watermelon by the pool

The holidays bring lots of indulgent goodies and treats. As tempting as they are, it’s important to stick to healthy habits. Read healthy holiday eating tips from Iora Health Coach, Carol Thomason and follow Mayo Clinic’s guide to make sure the holiday’s don’t become a free-for-all:

  • Have a healthy snack before holiday meals so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.
  • Eat healthy meals.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Include regular physical activity in your daily routine.
  • Try deep-breathing exercises, meditation or yoga.
  • Avoid excessive tobacco, alcohol and drug use.
  • Be aware of how the “information culture” can produce undue stress. In addition, adjust the time you spend reading news and social media as you see fit.

5. Seek professional help from your primary care provider

A senior woman wearing a mask meets with her therapistIf you exhibit any symptoms of depression and find yourself unable to cope with holiday depression, seek help from your primary care provider or a mental health counselor. Keep in mind that the stress of the holiday season can trigger any of us to experience increased irritability, anxiety and sadness. However, paying close attention to our moods and maintaining our healthy habits are great ways to reduce those holiday blues and the risk of depression.  

Whether you’re feeling a little blue this holiday season or experiencing full on holiday depression, try using these tips to manage your mental health. If you’re unable to shake your holiday blues, do not hesitate to reach out. At Iora, our patients’ mental and physical health is our top priority.

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