We’ve all heard the warnings about an increase in suicide and depression during the holidays. For most of us, this time of year is all about celebrations, family gatherings and taking time to reflect on the wonderful things we’re grateful to have in our lives. Unfortunately all of this jubilation can also highlight issues for those dealing with any kind of loss or life struggle. And even if you have every reason to rejoice in your circumstances, the whirlwind of holiday activity can be extremely stressful on its own. Throw in financial issues, a month or two of less than healthy eating, fewer hours of daylight and you’ve got the recipe for a case of the holiday blues.
While recent research shows December has the lowest rates of suicide compared to the rest of the year—spring and fall have the highest—depression can be debilitating and it certainly makes it harder to get into the holiday spirit. According a recent study of depression among Latinos in the U.S., “Women were twice as likely as men to experience high levels of depressive symptoms.” And, “First-and second-generation Hispanics/Latinos were significantly more likely to have symptoms of depression than those born outside the U.S. mainland.” Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, here are 10 ways to ward off depression during the holidays.
1. Give Yourself a Break
When your to-do list is even longer than usual and you’ve got work parties, family dinners, out-of-town guests, friends’ parties and gift buying added on to your usual load it can be totally overwhelming. Make sure to carve out a little quiet time for yourself. Do some meditating, take a nap or just breathe deeply for a few minutes each day.
Exercise is one of the best ways to beat depression during the holidays. Working out gets your blood circulating and releases those mood-enhancing endorphins. It makes you feel stronger and builds stamina so you can make it through a long day without breaking a sweat (Except at the gym!). Not to mention, fitting in a few cardio sessions each week is an excellent way to make up for holiday snacking.
3. Reach Out
It’s easy to start withdrawing from people when you’re feeling sad in the midst of all the Christmas cheer. Remember that you aren’t alone and it’s okay to ask for a little support from your close friends and family when you need it.
4. Get Some Sun
If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), holiday stress doesn’t help. Conversely, it’s harder to deal with holiday stress when you’re already feeling a bit blue. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with SAD, we can all benefit from soaking up some rays. Make a point of getting outside for a little while each day. If you need more of a boost consider investing in a sun box or other light therapy product.
5. Get Organized
Map out your holiday tasks and social obligations so you don’t wind up rushing from one thing to the next without a break. Financial worries are a major contributor to depression during the holidays so it’s especially crucial to make—and stick to—a budget for gifts, travel and entertaining.
6. Eat Healthy
If there’s ever a time to indulge in a few extra sweets and appetizers, the holidays are it. And you definitely shouldn’t deprive yourself—that is depressing! However, if you start letting nutrition slide because you’re eating on the go or fill up on the endless supply of Christmas cookies at the office, your mood and your waistline will suffer. Make a point of eating healthy meals throughout the day and only treat yourself after you’ve replenished your energy supply.
7. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Hectic schedules, late-night parties and stress make getting your full eight hours a challenge. It’s essential to stay well rested so you can keep up with the frenzy. Avoid midnight snacking and make a point of turning off electronics and setting aside work at least an hour before bedtime so you’re not tossing and turning all night.
8. Avoid Alcohol
It’s so tempting to overindulge at parties, especially when you’re stressed. Have a cocktail or two when you’re out but stick to good old water after 10pm. Alcohol is full of empty calories, it disrupts your sleep, leads to bloating and it’s a depressant.
9. Learn to Say No
Of course you want to make everyone happy but the key to preserving your sanity is embracing boundaries. This is where organization is especially helpful. Check your holiday plan before committing to anything, once you’re schedule is full get comfortable saying no to invitations or favors. We’re all in the same boat at this time of year, so your friends will understand.
10. Seek Professional Help
Lastly, if your depression is more than a case of the holiday blues, and is affecting your ability to function day-to-day, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Sometimes it takes some therapy or medication to reset your outlook and there’s no reason for you to suffer through the season. For urgent help or if you’re having suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800) 273-TALK is available 24/7 and they can connect you with local resources.