Have you ever experienced the "holiday blues"? The early winter months can often trigger feelings of loneliness, sadness, or loss — and it's not just because of the lack of sunlight. Family stress, high expectations, or memories of happier seasons may also contribute to the depression or anxiety many people encounter this time of year. To help, here are some simple and expert-approved tips to soothe your spirit and savor the holiday joy.
Meet our expert panel
Margaret Wehrenberg, PsyD, author ofThe Ten Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques, is a clinical psychologist, coach, and therapist. More at MargaretWehrenberg.com.
Daniel Amen, MD, author of You, Happier: The 7 Neuroscience Secrets of Feeling Good Based on Your Brain Type, is one of America's leading psychiatrists and brain health experts.
Nancy Colier, LCSW, author of The Power of Off and Can’t Stop Thinking, is a psychotherapist, interfaith minister, and mindfulness teacher.
Remember it’s okay to be sad.
Ask yourself why exactly you feel down, urges expert Margaret Wehrenberg. “Are you depressed, or more disappointed than sad? It’s easy to confuse disappointment with other emotions like anger or depression.” Indeed, the holidays make us take stock of our lives, and we may be yearning for something we thought we’d have by now. “The season bombards us with what we ‘should’ be, but accepting that it’s okay to feel blue helps you let go of guilt and treat yourself kindly.”
Question your thoughts.
The stress of the holidays often triggers Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs), says psychiatrist Daniel Amen, MD. “Whenever you have a thought that makes you feel sad, jot it down and ask yourself, Is this realistic?” he says. “If you think, Everyone is going to hate my homemade gifts, is that really true? Of course not!” Questioning your inner critic lets you develop more accurate, self-compassionate thinking.
Tap realistic optimism.
Rather than try to live up to an impossibly idealized version of the season, just picture one small thing you can do to make it “good enough,” encourages Wehrenberg. “For example, when I got divorced, I knew my ex would never make sure the kids got me a present, so I saved for a special day with my children — we bought nice outfits and went out for hot chocolate.” Being realistic about challenges helps you find small ways to lift your spirits.
Let appreciation flow.
This time of year, it’s easy to feel like society is pressuring us to conform to a “forced” sense of thankfulness, says expert Nancy Colier. “While making a gratitude list can sometimes feel like just another to-do, appreciation is more spontaneous,” she explains. “Little things, like my husband offering to drive, fill me with appreciation.” In other words, if gratitude feels like too much work, take comfort in simpler — but just as powerful — moments of connection.
Cue whole-body calm.
The holiday blues don’t just attack the mind and spirit, they take a physical toll. The best mood-boosting antidote? Moderate exercise, confirms Dr. Amen. “A 30-minute walk can do wonders for your mind and body — and walking with a family member makes it a special time to reconnect over the holidays, triggering the release of oxytocin, a feel-good neurotransmitter shown to reduce stress.”
Give yourself time.
Perhaps the best thing you can do for yourself this season is let negative and positive emotions live side by side. “You’re allowed to feel sad one moment, then 10 minutes later, laugh and have a wonderful time with family,” says Colier. “The holidays bring up joy and sadness, grief and appreciation. Let these emotions move through you in their own time, and you will feel everything you need in order to heal.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman's World.