The Holidays are Not Always Filled with Feelings of Ho, Ho, Ho!

Many people can experience feelings of anxiety or depression during the holiday season. People who already live with a mental health condition should take extra care to tend to their overall health and wellness during this time.

The “holiday blues” can stem from a variety of sources, such as current events, personal grief, loneliness, health challenges, economic concerns, separation from family members, loss of a loved one, or relationship issues like separation or divorce.
Extra stress, unrealistic expectations or even sentimental memories that accompany the season can also be a catalyst for the holiday blues.  In addition, seasonal factors such as less sunlight, changes in your diet or routine, alcohol at parties, over-commercialization, or the inability to be with friends or family can trigger feelings of sadness and despair.
In spite of the prevalence of factors that can negatively affect our mental health during the holidays, there are certain things we can do to help avoid the holiday blues. Ken Duckworth, M.D., Medical Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), shares this advice for managing our health—both mental and physical—during the holiday season:

Helpful Tips for Caring for Yourself During the Holiday Season

Don’t worry about how things should be. “There’s a lot of cultural pressure during the holidays,” said Duckworth. “We tend to compare ourselves with these idealized notions of perfect families and perfect holidays.” But remember, those other families doubtlessly have their own stressors and ruminations to contend with.
Be realistic. You can’t please everyone the rest of the year, so why try to during the holidays? Saying ‘no,’ whether to gatherings or a present on someone’s wish list that you simply cannot find, can be one of the most challenging parts of the season. But your own mental and physical well-being needs to come first.
Don’t try to be a superhero (or heroine). We all have complex family dynamics. Acknowledge them, but also acknowledge that, despite the season’s near-universal message of unity and peace, it’s not always a realistic outlook. If you must spend time with people that test your patience, try to limit your exposure.
Volunteer. Volunteering can be a great source of comfort, simply knowing that you're making a small dent to improve the lives of people who are not as fortunate. This is a great strategy if you feel lonely or isolated. Consider seeking out other community, religious or other social events.
Write a gratitude list and offer thanks. As we near the end of the year, it’s a good time to reflect back on what you are grateful for, then thank those who have supported you. Gratitude has been shown to improve mental health. In the midst of it all, is there something or someone for whom you are grateful?
Keep your own well-being in mind. Yes, the holidays are technically the season of giving. But that doesn’t mean you should take yourself completely out of the equation—instead, add yourself to it. Give yourself some time away from the hype, even if it’s just for half an hour a day. Exercise can also help, with its known anti-anxiety, anti-depression effect. Even a small amount of exercise, such as parking further from the store, can do much to improve your state of mind.
Manage your time and don’t try to do too much. Prioritizing your time and activities can help you use your time well. Making a day-to-day schedule helps ensure you don’t feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines. It’s okay to say no to plans that don’t fit into your schedule or make you feel good.
Make sure that the “holiday blues” haven’t become a scapegoat. You could be experiencing Recurrent Depression with Seasonal Pattern (previously known as Seasonal Affective Disorder) or another biological or psychological cause. If these are persistent feelings, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Credit:  National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
About the author:  Joe Teresi is a proud member of the Rotary Club of Millbrae.  He is also a member of District 5150’s Rotarian Action Group for Mental Health. 

About the Mental Health Matters blog series and how to get involved:

As you know Rotary International President Gordon McAnally has inspired us to think about Creating Hope in the World, and we can do so by ensuring we are practicing caring for ourselves and others this Rotary year.  Each month we will take a moment to share a mental health moment to inspire you on how you can practice caring for yourself and others.  In addition, District 5150 has taken a pledge to focus on mental health and has a group of committed Rotarians working towards making a difference in the arena of mental health here in our own district.  If you are interested in being a part of the discussion and solution our next district wide meeting will be January 8, at 6pm. Thereafter we hold our District wide meeting on the first Monday of every other month. If you need additional information, please contact Jenny Bates.
We hope you will also consider our newly created Rotary Men’s Support Group.  The focus of the discussion is helping men improve their communication with family and friends.  The next meeting is December 12 at 6:00pm at 220 N San Pedro Rd in San Rafael at the Church of Latter Day Saints.  The group is facilitated by Dr. Mikol Davis, a clinical psychologist.  For more information contact Jeff Slavitz (415) 310-2410.