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Banish the holiday blues

There is a reason the holiday season is often called “the most wonderful time of the year.” With at least 15 different holidays and observances, it holds special religious and cultural significance for a stunning patchwork of people from around the world. A time for family gatherings, celebrations with friends, and spiritual connections, the holidays can inspire joy like no other time of the year.

The holidays aren’t always fun for everyone, however. The month of December can trigger negative thoughts and feelings when holiday stress mounts, expenses increase, and support is lacking. Financial woes may prevent travel to see family or leave a parent to explain to their child why the family isn’t able to participate in gift giving this year. For others, visitations with family are fraught with difficult emotions as old traumas resurface and unrealistic expectations threaten to overwhelm.

Spikes in anxiety, depression, and even hopelessness can affect anyone, regardless of family situation or socioeconomic status. The good news is that there are effective strategies we can all use for banishing the holiday blues.

1: Set realistic expectations.

Clark Griswold set the bar sky-high for holiday expectations — to great comedic effect. Before you commit to plans or agree to host, be clear about your own needs and strive to honor them. Be realistic in what you expect from others as well. Understand that their approach to the season might be completely different from yours. As Clark so deftly demonstrated, the spirit of the season is more important than perfection.

2: Lookout for loneliness.

Feeling alone during the holidays can be a trigger for depression and a host of other mental health and personal challenges. Having a plan can help. Run holiday errands with a friend, take a walk with your neighbor, or simply call someone you trust and have a conversation to combat feelings of isolation. The holiday season can be a great time to renew and strengthen social ties — something that has lasting benefits throughout the year. Be proactive in your connections with others and remember that you may be helping them feel less lonely, too.

3: Energize with exercise.

Countless studies demonstrate clear mental health benefits from regular exercise. In times of high stress — for example, dinner with the in-laws — it’s important to carve out time to move. Whether it’s a light jog, yard work, or a stroll in the park, your mood can improve with just 30 minutes of physical activity.

4: Volunteer.

Helping others can be a powerful antidote to the blues. When you give your time to someone else who needs it, you demonstrate generosity, kindness, and empathy. All of these things contribute to an overall sense of gratitude and belonging. This can boost your mood and help keep your mind feeling healthy during the holidays.

5: Be flexible.

Family traditions and rituals are important, but they can also change from year to year. Being flexible can help you maintain perspective, lighten your mood, and help you be resilient in stressful situations.

While the holidays may be stressful, staying attuned to your needs can help you identify strategies that relieve some of the pressure. With a little practice, these tips can help you keep the blues at bay and have a joyful holiday season.

If you or someone you love is struggling, Beacon’s 24/7 hotline is here for you. Call us anytime at 1-800-580-6934. If you feel you are in crisis, please contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline right away by calling 988 or going online at 988lifeline.org.

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