GREENVILLE — The Holiday Blues are a real phenomenon that can affect anyone, according to Vickie Martin, Clinical Director at Recovery & Wellness Centers of Midwest Ohio in Greenville.
“The weather is cold and snowy,” Martin said, “and the sky is gray and dull, with sunlight being minimal.”
This lack of sunlight, according to Martin, causes serotonin levels in our brains to drop… serotonin being a chemical that tends to improve mood. As a result, many people tend to feel a bit down during the winter months. Martin and her colleagues offered the following tips to help folks stay positive and happy during the holidays:
Get out of the house!
“This is probably the easiest and most important thing to do,” Martin said. “Because the weather is dreadful, many people prefer to stay indoors, where it is warm, during the winter months. But isolating yourself can further increase negative feelings.”
Whether it is going out with your family to look at holiday lights, attending a local sporting event, or participating in church or other community groups, according to Martin, the end result is that you are staying active and connected with others.
Get plenty of exercise.
“Engaging in physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day has been linked to an improvement in mood,” Martin said. “Exercise can lead to an increase in serotonin, and can also help people feel accomplished and healthy, in the midst of a season where eating sweets and consuming large amounts of food is typically the norm.”
In addition, eating more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day, and staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water, can help avoid the temptation to overeat during the holidays.
Lighten things up a bit.
Trying to get enough sun during the holidays can be challenging. Martin recommends going for walks in the morning as opposed to at night, as well as opening blinds both at home and at work to allow in as much light as possible. Some even invest in a “light box,” a device that emits a bright light which mimics sunlight. Light boxes can be purchased at most retail stores, and do not require a prescription.
Give something back.
“When we give something or do something for others, we feel happy,” Martin said. There are many opportunities to give that don’t include a high price tag. Volunteering at a local soup kitchen, shoveling a neighbor’s driveway, collecting toys, clothing or other items for donation, adopting needy families to help shop for Christmas gifts, or sending care packages to our men and women overseas are all fairly inexpensive ways of giving back to others.
“We often find that giving to others can in turn lead to others giving as well… the “pay it forward” phenomenon,” Martin said. “The improvement in mood and increased happiness that result are well worth the cost.”
Make sure to get enough sleep.
Like serotonin, our body’s natural melatonin levels decrease during the colder months. Because melatonin helps us with sleep, this drop can have a big impact. Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day, even if you are off work or out of school for the holidays. If late-night holiday events make it difficult to get to bed early, try using relaxation techniques such as deep breathing. Melatonin supplements are sold at many retail stores, but Martin stressed that you should always consult a physician before using such products.
Laughter is the best medicine.
“That saying holds true in many ways,” Martin said. “When we laugh, endorphins are released. These endorphins are your body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Laughter has many benefits, and many do not do it enough.”
During times of stress, seek out ways to find laughter. Watching a funny movie, going to a comedy club, or simply keeping company with fun and humorous individuals can help obtain the doses of laughter necessary to help survive the holidays.
Avoid relying on alcohol or drugs.
The stress of the holidays can lead some to resort to unhealthy ways of coping, such as substance abuse. This not only creates physical problems, but can lead to legal difficulties as well. Use of substances should be avoided, Martin said, but for those who do choose to partake in a little extra holiday cheer, they should make sure a responsible driver is available to get them home safely afterward.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
In some cases, depressed individuals may need the advice of a professional therapist to help them get through the holidays, according to Martin.
“Research shows that when people are given the opportunity to talk through their negative thoughts and feelings, their mood will likely improve,” Martin said. If other strategies don’t seem to be helping, those who are struggling should not hesitate to reach out to local counseling organizations, such as Recovery & Wellness Centers of Midwest Ohio, for additional support.
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