Tips to avoid the holiday blues

12/16/2016, 9:04 p.m.

By Alphonso Gibbs Jr.

The six weeks encompassing Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are for most a magically unique time of year. But for many, the holidays bring hurt. Caused by factors including the weather, separation, death, stress, unrealistic expectations, hyper-sentimentality, guilt or overspending, holiday depression can zap the merriment out of even the most wonderful time of the year.

Holiday depression, or holiday blues, affects 1 million people every year. Men and women, young and old, fall victim to feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, guilt and fatigue during this emotionally charged season.

Mental health has been in news headlines recently after two famous entertainers have acknowledged their struggles with depression. Popular rappers Kanye West and Kid Cudi, two African-American men considered at the top of their game, announced their own struggles. Within weeks of each other, both Mr. West and Kid Cudi sought treatment for their mental health. This could help lead to a greater awareness and help others to seek help.

Kid Cudi penned a open and honest Facebook letter to his fans: “It’s been difficult for me to find the words to what I’m about to share with you because I feel ashamed,” he wrote. “I simply am a damaged human swimming in a pool of emotions every day of my life.”

Men’s Health Network offers the following 10 suggestions to help people identify and ward off — or at least better cope with –– potential sources of holiday depression.

  1. Acknowledge that you’re hurting. Others may expect certain attitudes and behaviors from you that you may not feel. The retail industry’s holiday hype presents an overly sentimental, nostalgic and even imaginary notion of the holidays, usually to try to sell you something. Still, feelings of sadness, loneliness or depression don’t automatically vanish just because it’s the holidays. Acknowledge your pain, be open and honest with others, refuse to feel guilty and get help if necessary. It’s OK to laugh! Don’t be afraid. You won’t be struck by a bolt of lightning for laughing.

  2. Have a plan to deal with your feelings. Try to surround yourself with people who care about and support you — family, friends or church members. Invest in an exercise program. Aerobic activities such as walking, running and cycling are recommended because of their mood-elevating ability. Take time to write your thoughts down. Sometimes, just the act of putting your thoughts on paper helps to get it out. If necessary, see your doctor or therapist. Learn to say “no.” Others’ expectations are not a reason for your own mental health to suffer.

  3. Set realistic expectations. Keep your expectations realistic rather than perfectionistic. Prioritize and reduce self-imposed holiday preparations. Delegate responsibilities. Realistically plan your budget, spending and shopping. Do less and enjoy more. Obsessing over endless details is bound to change this long-awaited, season from a time of exuberance to one of exhaustion. Make it a point to be honest with yourself, and if necessary and possible, limit the time, situations and people you want to be around. When you’ve had enough, make sure that you have a way to leave or step away. If possible, let someone you trust know in advance, so that you aren’t put in an even more stressful position of having to explain yourself when you unplug.

  4. Take time for yourself. Why is it called holiday depression? Because for most people, these feelings don’t occur at other times of the year. Remind yourself of what you enjoyed during the previous months, then continue them during the holidays. Make yourself a priority. Getting enough rest, eating and drinking in moderation, exercising and continuing other favorite activities can maintain normalcy, routine, control and predictability.

  5. Consider that your depression actually may be caused by this time of year. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, occurs because of reduced exposure to sunlight, which is what happens during the holiday season when daylight hours are shorter. Check with your doctor to see if light therapy might be beneficial.

  6. Help others. Soup kitchens, homeless shelters, nursing homes, churches and scores of other organizations can always use volunteers. Additionally, you’ll benefit from the company of other people rather than being alone. Tell those who care about you what you do or don’t need from them. They often don’t know how to help, or what to say, but want to.

  7. Bury the hatchet. Perfect families don’t magically appear during the holidays, but family conflicts can. Letting go and forgiving can help heal past wounds. Additionally, family feuds can even be deliberately set aside until after the high-tension holidays in order to facilitate the peace and enjoyment of everyone at this special time.

  8. Start your own traditions. Both families and traditions change with time. Rather than reminiscing about the “good old days,” accept the fact that change may be necessary, grasp the season as it is now, look forward to the future and create your own family traditions that can be enjoyed and even preserved for future generations.

  9. Keep your alcohol intake low. Don’t pour gasoline on a fire. Remember, alcohol has a depressive effect on your nervous system, so if you’re experiencing the holiday blues, drinking too much alcohol will only worsen your depression.

  10. Rededicate yourself to your spirituality. The reason for the season often is swallowed up by maddening materialism that can distract from the history, meaning and significance of holiday celebrations. Step back, slow down and refocus on transcendent, eternal matters. Rededicate yourself to spiritual pursuits, such as church attendance, church work, prayer life and other disciplines. Regain the focus originally intended by this time of year.

The writer is a licensed clinical social worker.