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Beating the Holiday Blues

Thinking about the holidays conjures up lovely images of enjoyable family get-togethers, heart-warming reunions, cozying up in front of a roaring fire while a snowstorm rages outside, picture-perfect outings involving ice skating and hot chocolate and the exuberance of Christmas morning surprises. The anticipation of the holidays can be exciting for some – but not for everyone.The good news is there are numerous things we can do to ward off the blues and avoid the triggers that cause them. 

Marjorie Knighton, a master clinician with Aspen Pointe, an organization providing mental and behavioral health services in Colorado Springs, says we all need to focus on self-care and balance in our lives. “Because the holidays are so busy, we have to be more focused on eating well and getting enough sleep,” she says. Balance can be achieved by delegating responsibilities and having others share in the holiday load, often spanning from Halloween to New Year’s Day. 

Managing expectations – yours and those around you – will  go a long way in keeping things realistic. If you get hung up on how others are celebrating or worse, how the holidays are portrayed in books and movies, you are sure to be disappointed. Focus on your own family, your own traditions, and what fits in to your lifestyle. 

While traditions come with the territory, they can trigger anxiety for a number of reasons. There is pressure to keep the tradition alive even when you may not have time, money or the desire to continue. Knighton says family gatherings that only take place at the holidays can be dreadful if there is anticipation of being with a family member who is annoying or difficult to be around. She recommends avoiding these situations altogether if they cause overwhelming stress.

It may be too late for this holiday season, but planning early for next year will go a long way in helping keep things calm. From shopping to cooking, Knighton says to make a plan that allows for as much as possible to be done in advance.

Keep things in perspective and challenge yourself to let things go this year. If you forgot to purchase a gift for your yoga teacher or ran out of time to mail holiday cards, it’s not the end of the world, so make a pact to forgive and forget. A planning calendar can help by setting deadlines for tasks throughout the holiday season. If you reach the deadline for getting the holiday lights up and the task has not been completed, then it doesn’t get done this year.

Be realistic about your level of tolerance, especially for those around you. Knighton says the hype of the season can actually make people tolerate even less. So if you are not used to attending parties every Friday and Saturday night for weeks in a row, then make a decision to only attend what you think you can handle and send your regrets for the rest. You will feel better and actually enjoy the season more.

These common-sense tips can help most of us. But for many in our community, some life-changing events may cause holiday depression that requires outside help. From seniors living alone to military families experiencing their first Christmas with a spouse deployed, Knighton says it’s imperative to seek community support. “The military does a wonderful job of providing support to military families over the holidays,” she says. “They have get-togethers as well as activities for the kids.” She also recommends keeping a normal routine, especially where children are concerned.

Seniors can find group activities through a senior center, church or organization such as Silver Key Senior Services are helpful. The important thing is to be around other people, to have some camaraderie during the holidays so that the feeling of loneliness doesn’t overwhelm you. 

Those who have had a history of depression may be more susceptible to feeling down during the holidays, so pre-planning may be in order. Knighton suggests that finding a support group to get involved with is a good first step. She also recommends keeping phone numbers of friends and family handy, but simply getting out in public may be enough to ward off the blues. Volunteering is also a great way to get connected to others and provides the additional benefit of being able to help those in need.

And Knighton offers one last piece of advice that may be good for us all. “Remember that not everything is in your control,” she says. “Keep things positive, and if you have trouble remembering the positive things in your life then write them down and review them when you are feeling low.”