On Your Health

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Staying Merry When the Holidays Are Hard

Life seems to move at a much faster pace around the holidays – between social gatherings and gift exchanges, this time of year can leave you feeling run down and mentally exhausted. Feelings of pressure and stress, coupled with sadness because of seasonal depression or grief, can make the holidays miserable. If your mood isn’t exactly cheerful during the holidays, you are not alone.

Grieving during the holidays

For many, dealing with grief and emotions that surface during the holidays can be extremely difficult. Whether it’s the memory of spending holidays with a loved one who has passed or remembering past heartache, “happy holidays” is often easier said than done. Sara Barry, licensed behavioral practitioner at INTEGRIS, says experiencing grief during the holidays is normal and perfectly acceptable after a loss. “It’s not unusual to feel this way during the holiday season. Holidays, anniversaries, and other special occasions can trigger an episode of the blues, feelings of loneliness (or) depression,” Barry says. If sadness during the holidays is common for you, remember that letting yourself feel the pain is OK. Denying yourself the opportunity to truly feel the emotions at hand can actually make the situation worse. Certain ways of coping work better for different people. Some find it helpful to celebrate their loved one’s memory by starting a new tradition in his or her honor. Others enjoy sharing their story, while some people are more private in their grief. “Don’t try to be all things for all people,” Barry advises. “Pay close attention to your own needs.” Churches and community organizations often offer remembrance services this time of year. If you have a place of worship, be sure to ask about holiday services designed for those who are grieving.

Seasonal affective disorder

Even those not experiencing grief or year-round depression can feel unusually sad or moody during the holidays. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to transitioning seasons. Those who experience SAD often feel the onset about the same time each year, during late fall and early winter. The colder temperatures and longer periods of darkness can worsen your negative moods and zap your energy. The feelings associated with SAD are normal, but there are ways to help keep a positive outlook and improve your mood.

Seek out natural light

Less exposure to sunlight during winter months really can affect your mood. Seek out natural light as much as possible, even if it means just opening the blinds during the day or taking a quick, 5-minute walk outside during your lunch break.

Eat the right foods

Research shows that our diet can provide certain nutrients that foster better mental health. Eating whole grains, fruits and vegetables can help reduce feelings of anxiety. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, olive oil, and certain veggies can help with brain function and a more positive mood. Make sure you are consuming plenty of vitamins B12 and D to avoid deficiencies that can worsen depression. While holiday gatherings often serve alcohol, it’s important to opt for water as often as possible. “It’s easy to turn to alcohol to try to boost your mood, but it’s a depressant and will most likely end up making you feel worse,” Barry says.

Express gratitude

Actively expressing gratitude — whether by writing down things you’re grateful for, writing a thank you note, or verbally expressing thanks — can actually help improve your mood. Even when you’re not feeling cheerful, making an effort to give thanks — or even helping others by volunteering — can have positive mental benefits.

Talk to someone

If you’re feeling lonely during the holidays, don’t be afraid to reach out for companionship and support. Heartline Oklahoma offers resources and a listening ear 24 hours a day. Seniors experiencing grief or sadness can call The Friendship Line, a free crisis and support service geared specifically toward older adults, at 800-971-0016. INTEGRIS also offers free mental health screenings and mental health resources for Oklahomans.

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