For many people, the holiday season is a time of merriness and cheer, while for others it is a time of profound sadness and loneliness.
It has been my experience that the holiday season is a major stressor for many people because:
1) It may intensify already existing feelings of sadness and isolation in those dealing with depression or bereavement.
2) There is so much focus on the commercialism of the holidays that focus is placed on material wealth, which in our current economy has drastically changed for thousands of people.
However, here are some ideas that may help combat holiday depression:
1. Get active
By simply engaging in any type of aerobic activity, such as brisk walking or running, for at least 30 minutes and up to 45 minutes can help improve mood. Ideally, you should do this activity at least five days a week to reap additional benefits such as improvement in some cognitive abilities and weight loss or maintenance.
The act of giving to others has been shown to help improve mood. This time of year there are several organizations that have opportunities for you to help those who are in need of food or comfort.
3. Watch your intake of refined sugars
Consuming large amounts of refined sugars, such as those found in cakes, pies, etc., can cause havoc on one’s blood sugar levels. Unstable glucose (blood sugar) can have a negative impact on mood, as well as cognition. Instead try to eat fruits or very limited amounts of refined sugar to get your sweet fix.
4. Monitor your alcohol intake
Using alcohol to “feel better” rarely works. In fact, it tends to make one’s mood go from bad to worse, especially if one is just drinking to be drinking. If you must consume any alcoholic beverages, try to limit to only one drink.
5. Send yourself some love
Write a letter telling someone why you are unique and how you have overcome many of the obstacles you faced during the past year. After you write the letter, place it in a self-addressed stamped envelope and put it in the mail. Sometimes we forget that we have the skills and evidence from our lives to show that we can make it through and a letter received in the mail, especially during a particularly difficult period, helps to remind us.
6. Give some thanks
Write a list of things that you are grateful to have, such as strong legs to carry me, someone to hug, etc., and also share with others what you are grateful for. It is also helpful to engage in this practice on a regular basis and not just during the holiday season. For example, before we say grace at our meals, my family and I will name one thing that we are thankful for. Sometimes the simple act of gratitude can help bring things into perspective.
7. Create your own definition of “family”
Realize that family is not just blood relations, but also those that you connect with and are supportive of you and your needs. If you cannot be with your biological family for whatever reasons, try to be with those who may not be blood-related but are “fam” nonetheless because you feel valued and loved by them. A colleague of mine from school used to say that “people either compliment or complicate your life”. Try to be with those that compliment you and your value and limit interactions with people that are toxic to your well-being.
If you have been experiencing depressive symptoms for at least two weeks that is a significant impairment in your quality of life or functioning, please seek treatment from a qualified mental health professional. You can find help locating a provider through the Association of Black Psychologists website (www.abpsi.org) or the American Psychological Association website (www.apa.org), as well as talking to a trusted health care provider. As always, if you, a loved one, or a friend is having thoughts of suicide or of hopelessness, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) where trained professionals are available 24/7/365 to provide needed support and assistance.
Although the way we have celebrated the holidays in the past may not be possible due to personal, familial, or financial constraints as a result of events of the previous year or years, it is possible to adapt our thoughts and behaviors to better fit these changes. Who knows, you and those around you may appreciate the difference!
By Dr. Tonya, BDO Mental Health Expert
Dr. Hucks-Bradshaw is a licensed clinical psychologist and a former Minority Fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA). She is a certified HIV trainer with APA’s Office of HIV Education and has experience working in medical settings and hospitals. Dr. Hucks-Bradshaw has made numerous presentations on multicultural interests, contributed to publications, and continues to maintain an active interest involving research among minority group populations.