Even though it seems impossible, the holidays are right around the corner. Here in America we zip from Thanksgiving into Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanza) into New Years in the blink of an eye. And if you’re living north of the equator all of this comes at a time when the days are the shortest and night seems to last forever.

Winter survival guide - 17 ways to tame stress and improve your mood - even during the holidays

As much as some people love the cold and the snow, others (like me!) are struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). And you top all that off with a busy – and sometimes stressful – holiday rush, and it can be a recipe for disaster.

If you look around the web you’ll find either articles on dealing with SAD or “the winter blues”, or ones about dealing with the stress of the holidays. However, I think they come together in a lot of us and make the perfect storm to wreak havoc on our mental health.

So today I’ve decided to put it all together and talk about how we can deal with the depression and the stress. Consider it your holistic approach from about now until the spring thaw.

If you’re a person that already struggles with bouts of depression, or constantly teeters on the edge of it, then this time of year might push you right over. For me the darkness is enough, but if you add in the weight of trying to find the “perfect” presents and make the holidays joyful for everyone – it can almost be too much to bear.

Below are some ways that can help with SAD – and many improve depression symptoms anytime of the year. One might be enough to help you out or you might need a cocktail of them. Don’t be afraid to play around and see what works for you.

Get more light
One of the most obvious factors in SAD is the lack of sunlight. And if you’re already chronically low on vitamin D, which can be a factor in depression, the diminishing light can make that worse. If you’re like me and are chronically low, the winter is the time to boost your supplements.

Also, do your best to get as much light as you can, bundle up and go outside, sit near a window, or get a light box (no these don’t help with making vitamin D but they do boost your mood).

If you have to get up early, as in before the sun, it can also help to get a dawn simulator. This will help wake you up naturally instead of trying to get yourself out of bed in the pitch black (and cold!).

Here we are again with exercise. It seems to be a cure all – helping with your health, improving your productivity, and boosting your mood. To help you mood aim for 35 mins 5 times a week or 60 minutes 3 times a week. And it’ll be even more mood improving if you can do it under bright lights.

Help Others
While you can certainly go down to your local shelter and help, that isn’t the only way that giving to others can bring you returns. Buy the person behind you coffee or leave an anonymous gift on a coworkers desk. If you can’t afford anything monetary, don’t sweat it. You can leave little notes of kindness on cars or visit a neighbor that could use some company. Just knowing that you helped improve someone else’s day will also help improve your own.

Break out the funny movies
While it sounds cliche, laughter really can be the best medicine. It has been shown to reduce the sensations of pain and it can improve your mood. At the very least, it’s a great way to kill a couple of hours of darkness when you’d normally be miserable.

Make a happy playlist
Upbeat music has been shown to improve mood. Bring those headphones with you wherever you go and pop them in for a little mood boost when you need it most.

Talk to someone
It doesn’t have to be a therapist, but if you feel like you need one, don’t hesitate to contact one. Regardless, talking to someone about your problems can help you understand them and cope better. Other people can be a great sounding board as well, because they might be going through the same thing. Knowing you’re not alone helps ease the struggle of depression.

Get social
One of the common behaviors of someone with depression is to isolate themselves. However, it’s been shown that being social actually improves symptoms of depression. While we all might need to take a break from all the visitors (and that’s ok!), isolating yourself foe extended periods won’t help you get better.

Be aware of the post holiday blues
Getting back to every day life after the parties and the gifts can cause a bit of shock to the system. It’s totally normally to feel this sort of let down after new years. The holidays can be exhausting and stressful, so don’t be afraid to schedule yourself some rest and down time after it’s all over.

Winter survival guide - 17 ways to tame stress and improve your mood - even during the holidays

As fun as the holidays are, they can also be stressful. Trying to make everything perfect and get it all done takes a toll. Below are some ideas to help you manage your holiday stress so you can enjoy this special time of the year.

It doesn’t have to be “perfect”
If you’ve been around here for a hot minute, you already know that perfectionism is just a mask that fear of failure wears. It’s never going to be perfect – and that’s totally ok. The holidays don’t need to be a picture in a magazine to be joyful. It’s a time to spend with loved ones and to enjoy. If the effort of trying to make something exactly the way you think it should be stops being fun, and starts being stressful, it’s time to channel Elsa and Let It GO!

Be careful with spending
Yes it’s the season of giving, but despite what stores want you to believe, it shouldn’t be the season of overspending. As much as you may love giving people the perfect gift, overspending can negate all those good feelings after the fact. Once the bills start rolling in, you could be paying off the holiday for the rest of the year – which will only create more stress.

Remember that the best gifts are the most thoughtful ones, not necessarily the most expensive.

It’s ok to be sad
This one really hits in both categories, but I’m putting it here because I feel like a lot of us feel a tremendous pressure to be happy through the holidays. It can be very stressful to try to fake your way through gatherings when you’re just not feeling it. If you’ve gone through a break up, lost a loved one, or can’t be near those you hold dear, it’s ok to mourn that. Putting pressure on yourself to be happy will only make you feel worse.

Enlist the help of some close friends or family to help them understand what you’re going through. Let them know what you need this holiday season to help you out.

Watch your eating
I love a good cookie as much as the next gal, but sometimes bad foods = bad moods. Be very aware of what you put in and how you feel afterwards. There are so many treats around this time of year it’s hard to say no, but if those treats make you feel gross or put you in a bad mood, they’re not worth sacrificing your holiday cheer.

Enjoy treats in moderation and only when they’re really special. If we’re being honest you can get a chocolate chip cookie from Subway every day of the week – but if it’s Grandma’s special homemade fudge she only makes once a year, that might be worth it.

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Don’t overdo it
You don’t have to spend hours and hours making every decoration perfect or say yes to every holiday party. If you end up over extending yourself, all these events that are supposed to be fun, might just drain you and make you feel miserable. Be choosy about what you want to do over the holidays and what’s not really that meaningful. Think about your energy and whether it’s going to fill your tank or drain it, before you decide whether to agree to do something or skip it.

Relatives will be relatives
If your uncle is a jerk all the 364 other days of the year, ain’t nuthin’ gonna’ change about this holiday. If you’ve got a beef with someone that you have to see, do your best to limit your interaction. Endeavor to do what you can to let go of the past to enjoy this time with your family and friends – but don’t fake it. Being inauthentic about your feelings just to make someone else feel better will only cause more stress.

Take a break
The holidays can be a LOT. And they can be made worse if you’re cramped into small spaces with other people. So if you need to, feel free to take a break. You do not need to be on, all the time. If it’s your house it’s ok to go hide in your bedroom and do something relaxing for yourself. Take a bath, read a book – the others will entertain themselves.

If you’re a guest it might be a little harder to get away, but even offering to run an errand for your host could get you some alone time. Enjoy the break, blast the music in the car, walk up and down every aisle of Target. It will make the time with your family better for you and them.

Self Care
Taking care of yourself should not be tossed out of the window just because it’s December. Included in this are the above eating and exercise, but also anything else that’s fundamental to your mental health. Don’t ditch all your reading time to wrap presents or skip your hour long bath so you can hang more ornaments.

While it might be necessary to trim back your routine to fit in all the special times the holiday brings, don’t just ditch it all together. Skipping all your “you” time will eventually take a toll on your mood and turn the holiday sour.

Don’t be afraid to change traditions
My Grandmother was German and so we celebrated the feast of St.Nicholas growing up. This involved hanging socks that she filled with fruits, nuts, and german sweets. I loved it and it always seemed the perfect kick off to the holidays.

But hell if I can get my act together by December 6th to make that happen for my kids. So we just do a little present.

As much as I’d love to make this experience for them, it just doesn’t fit into my life right now, and that’s ok.

Don’t be afraid to change things up. You don’t have to do what you’ve always done, just because you’ve always done it. Make traditions fun and work for you. Who knows, you might come across something that’s even better than what you’re used to doing.

Even though this is the time of year for giving, remember that you need to be ok with taking time to take care of yourself. Having fun and being with friends and family IS the cake. All the decorations and special foods is just icing.

If you’re struggling to make it through this season in your life, please contact me. Coaching can help you figure things out so that you can move forward. 

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