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Mental Health Tips During the Holidays

How To Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)

As the weather gets colder and the pressure and expectations of the holidays draw closer, it is a common occurrence for those who may already be prone to heightened emotions to experience what is known as S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) due to a sudden change in seasons as well as various potential triggers. Aside from S.A.D., others may simply feel unexpectedly depressed or extra emotional about certain situations and circumstances. It’s not surprising that the holidays can cause one to feel down -- those who are estranged from their families and friends may start to compare themselves to those who do; expectations are certainly heightened during the holidays as people often expect things to go perfectly -- it’s supposed to be the most magical time of year, so why do people feel the opposite of magic during the holidays? 

When those expectations aren’t met, it can send someone into a deep, dark rabbit hole. Not only that, but the stark contrast between their holidays versus those who may have a big, happy family can cause negative comparisons -- lastly, those who have had a traumatic experience during this time of year may have a negative correlation with the holidays (they may also experience multiple triggers during this time of year). Continue reading to discover what one can do to keep their mental health in check this holiday season (coping mechanisms can make a world of difference!), as well as how they can avoid and/or deal with possible triggers. In general, as the holidays and the impending season changes occur, it’s important to mentally prepare and implement some coping mechanisms to ease any potential pain in the upcoming months as much as possible. First and foremost, make your space your own--do what is necessary to make it more cozy (being as cozy as possible for as much as possible during these next few months is key). If you don’t want to decorate it with Christmas decorations, you don’t have to -- surrounding yourself with bright, happy colors can be beneficial.

Don’t let yourself feel pressured to celebrate Christmas in any way that you do not want to -- celebrate it however much or little you want, or not at all -- remember that this is your life and it is always your choice. Do what makes you feel best and don’t let anyone else influence your decisions if it will compromise your mental and emotional health. It’s recommended to decorate your living quarters with things that relax you and/or make you smile -- fill up the room with your favorite scent (aromatherapy candles anyone?). Alternatively, if that’s not for you, place some cute little plants around your living space. Stock up on comforting teas or learn how to bake something new -- start a new project and plan something fun for each approaching month (it doesn’t have to be something extravagant--it can be something as small as a simple but effective self care routine)! Indulge in some new or old tv shows/movies (preferably comedies over dramas) and/or re-read some of your favorite books (or find some new uplifting ones).

Remember that winter is a time for nature to rest, so it can be utilized as your resting period as well! Take this time for yourself -- don’t perceive the upcoming months as a time when you have to get a bunch of stressful, mundane tasks done -- rather perceive it as a time for healing and self love/self care. Additionally, it’s essential to get as much sunlight as you can -- which can be difficult if you live in an area that lacks sunlight during the colder months. Take walks as often as possible and make sure to brighten up your living space if you can (light therapy lamps may be your new best friend) by opening up your blinds and sitting close to the windows. Furthermore, exercise and a proper diet are important -- they increase one’s endorphins and serotonin levels. Try to incorporate a rhythmic, repetitive form of exercise such as walking, dancing, swimming (in a heated pool preferably) and remember to keep both your legs and arms continuously moving! As for food intake, try to eat small, protein-filled meals (consisting of fruit and vegetables) throughout the day. Foods such as bananas, oatmeal, brown rice and whole grain bread are recommended, as they help to improve serotonin levels; additionally, it is recommended to implement foods that are packed with omega-3 fats, such as walnuts, soybeans and oily fish into one’s diet, as they can greatly improve one’s mood.

What Else Can be Done to Improve One’s Mental Health During the Holidays?

Make sure to be as honest as possible about your emotions -- don’t be ashamed of being human and remember that others are feeling the same way. Allow yourself to reach out to your friends and family, or to someone who you trust and can open up to. Reaching out to someone goes hand-in-hand with participating in positive, beneficial activities. Join a support group and meet new people who you can relate to -- it may seem daunting, but talking about things can help. Volunteering your time can also put things into perspective and serve as a healthy distraction. With that being said, pay attention to how you feel. If that seems overwhelming to you, don’t force yourself to do it. It’s always an option to find small, easy projects for yourself -- and no, they don’t have to be holiday related, unless you want them to be! Make a list of the things that you enjoy and do them! Surround yourself with the activities you love and don’t pressure yourself to do too much--just sit back and breathe.

Sometimes it’s as simple as that -- remembering what you love and eliminating anything that stresses you out. Try your best to do the things you love daily -- but don’t put too many expectations on yourself or you may end up feeling disappointed in yourself if you feel you aren’t doing ‘enough’ (just to let you know, you’re doing just fine -- don’t overexert yourself). Additionally, it’s important to familiarize yourself with various relaxation techniques (yoga, meditation, etc.) for when those stressful things are unavoidable. Lastly, try your best to perceive these upcoming months as a time of rest, healing and rejuvenation!

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