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Tips for coping with holiday blues

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If you’re like many people, the holidays can be an emotionally difficult time. For some, a season that is advertised as being “the most wonderful time of the year” carries with it a slew of challenges that stand in sharp contrast to the joyful ideals portrayed in nostalgic images, TV commercials, and often by our friends and family.

All around us, many people are able to truly enjoy the holidays, and while everyone would like to be able to savor the time with loved ones and embrace the spirit of giving, the realities of life sometimes throw a wet blanket on the festivities. I have shared many conversations with people lately about the difficulties of celebrating the holidays, and this year in particular circumstances seem to have come together to produce a climate in which many people are feeling discouraged, sad, or even hopeless.

One of the biggest stressors this time of year is financial. If you’re feeling squeezed and depleted yourself, it’s hard to feel obligated to give to others and celebrate as you would like to. “Maybe next year …” is a phrase many households are becoming very familiar with.

Another significant emotional shift for many people occurs every fall as the days grow shorter and the weather turns colder. It still never ceases to amaze me that it’s already dark by 5 p.m. Decreased exposure to sunlight may cause a decrease in the neurotransmitter serotonin, among other effects, and lead to symptoms of depression. For many people, this comes just as other difficulties begin to peak, compounding the problem.

While many people find encouragement and solace in the midst of winter through holiday celebration, not everyone is happy to spend more time with family. Some of us have no close connections to speak of. November and December can be painful reminders that family is not as close and supportive as it could be, and conflict or loneliness can peak at this time.

I highly encourage anyone struggling with holiday blues to take good care of yourself and loved ones this year. Here are a few action steps you can take to make this season better than past experiences.

Take care of your body, your mind will follow

Frequent exercise, a healthy diet, and cultivating a spiritual or meditative practice are the foundations of building emotional wellbeing in our daily lives. Commit to exercise and healthy eating. Most people make eating better or joining a gym part of their New Year’s resolution. I say — why wait until January? Now is when you need it the most.

Share your thoughts and feelings with others

The power of shared experience and genuine empathy never cease to amaze me. Some people do well sharing their thoughts and feelings with others one-on-one, some need a large group to feel part of something bigger than themselves. I recommend both.

Also, if the holidays require you to spend time with people you would usually rather avoid, pace yourself. It’s OK to communicate that you might need a break occasionally to collect your thoughts and regroup. Plan ahead to help avoid those family reunion blowouts.

Reach out

If you are someone who is seriously struggling with the holiday blues, you don’t have to struggle alone. Reach out for help if you are in urgent need. Support is out there. Community organizations, spiritual groups, supportive therapists, medical or psychiatric professionals and meetings such as AA and NA for those struggling with addiction are just a few of the resources available to combat isolation and hopelessness during this time.

Wishing everyone a truly happy holidays!

(Marcus Moore is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the director of Petaluma Family Therapy.)