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Holiday Stress: 12 Mindful Days of Christmas How to beat stress and seasonal affective disorder.

Having a holly, jolly Christmas can be easier said than done and is not necessarily the best time of the year for some individuals. The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and cheer, but some people are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder or the Holidays Blues around the winter season.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that is caused by lack of sunlight starting in autumn and lasting into the winter months. Reduced sunlight can limit our serotonin levels which may trigger depression. Treatment for SAD can include light therapy, therapy, or medications. Symptoms of SAD include low levels of energy, feeling sluggish, loss of interest in activities, thoughts of suicide, and changes in appetite.

The Holidays Blues

Individuals diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder are not the only ones that may feel the slumps around this time of the year. Many people experience anxiety due to some lifestyle factors such as work deadlines, family dysfunction, buyer’s frenzy, poor nutrition, and the commercialization of the season. Incessant advertising provides unrealistic expectations of how happy we are supposed to be around this time of year, but mindfulness or paying attention to the present moment can enable us to enjoy the holidays without stress or anxiety.

Here are some strategies that you can use to combat stress, depression, and make the most of your holiday season.

12 Ways to Enjoy the Holiday

1. Self-care

The holidays are one of the busiest times of the year with all the shopping, gift-wrapping, and holiday parties to attend. The easiest thing to forget is to take care of yourself. Be sure to keep to your schedule of exercising and getting enough sleep. Exercising helps to release the feel-good hormones your body needs when adapting to the lack of sunlight and helps to relieve stress.

2. Unplug from social media

Social media is a great way to connect with those long- distance relative overseas and share holiday spirits, but excessive social media use can increase levels of depression by serving as a reminder that many of us are lonely around the holidays. Seeing others’ holidays pictures can also make us compare our holiday vacations or the presents others received, but in reality, spending time with your loved ones is just enough. Please remind yourself that pictures on social media are only a small glimpse into the lives of others. No one ever posts the uncle that got too drunk or the family fight that broke out over the game of dominoes.

3. Cultivate gratitude

Feeling grateful has been shown to improve one’s mood and enhance one’s overall well-being. Cultivating an attitude of gratefulness has long-term benefits if you make it a habit that extends beyond the holidays. Individuals that consistently cultivate an attitude of gratefulness report higher levels of alertness, more energy, and higher levels of happiness. Even if the holidays may seem hectic and you may not be looking forward to the long drive to your cousin’s house, try to appreciate the small things you look forward to around the holidays whether it be the chance to hear your sister’s sense of humor or being able to sit near a fire.

Across the board in happiness studies, universally, gratitude is the number one way to boost happiness and over-all being. One exercise that you can do is begin a gratitude journal in which you write down three things that went well that day. You can write something as simple as ‘I got to have a coffee break with my friend today’ or something big like ‘I got a promotion.’ For each good thing that happened to you, write down why it happened. You can write in your journal as frequently as you would like, but science proves again and again that gratitude is the most effective way to boost your mood.

4. Plan ahead for the holiday season

A lot of stress from the holidays stems from simply all of the stuff we have to do! Our inboxes are stuffed with e-vites to respond to, and our shopping lists grow every time we have a new coupon or secret Santa we just joined. Set aside time for the events you want to go to and plan your purchases accordingly with your paychecks. We may end up spending more than we would like just to take advantage of a sale. Remind yourself that you do not need to get a gift for every person that you know and to make a budget for yourself to keep yourself in check.

5. Practice self-compassion

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Around the holidays, we are always taught about the importance of giving and thinking of others. To be the best version of ourselves for our loved ones, it is also important to treat ourselves with love and kindness to truly be present for those around us. To prevent compassion fatigue, be sure to be kind to yourself and take the time you need to re-energize yourself for the holidays ahead.

6. Revise your expectations

Let go of your need for everything to be perfect. It doesn’t matter how perfect your gift wrapping is or what people thought of your latest recipe. Enjoy your holidays for what it is and take the time to appreciate when you’re not at work, the chance to be with your family, and the delicious food you get to have.

7. Eat Mindfully

One of the best parts of the holidays is all of the food you can eat, but can also lead to overeating and more sugar than we were hoping to consume. Eating mindfully is not about avoiding foods that are ‘bad’ for you, but about savoring your favorite foods without overeating. Some ways that you can avoid overeating by mindfully monitoring what you eat is by sitting down while you eat. You are more likely to enjoy your food when you are not multitasking. You can also pick a smaller plate at the buffet or try to portion out your food. You can eat more frequent, smaller meals as opposed to larger overstuffed plates that make us feel bloated, lethargic, and guilty.

8. Connect with your loved ones

Sometimes with all of the hustle and bustle with the holidays especially with traffic and traveling, it can feel like there is hardly any time to spend time with our loved ones. You can try incorporating others into your to-do lists and use the activities as a way to bond with your family from decorating the tree, to making cookies, or simply walking around your neighborhood to take in the decor.

9. Try something new

Mindfulness is a way of orienting your awareness to the present moment internally and externally. Mindfulness helps us to notice new things and change habitual behavior that may be good or bad for us. Trying new things is one way to create novelty in our lives and help us become more mindful. So although the holidays are usually about the same annual traditions, you can try making new traditions with your loved ones or experiencing new activities together. Some simple ideas may include trying a new recipe, driving a different route home to take in the scenery, or watching a new holiday movie that no one has seen.

10. Laugh, Smile

Laughing helps to lower blood pressure, relieve stress, releases endorphins, and gives us a positive outlook on life. If things don’t go perfectly as you planned for your holiday season, take a moment to laugh at yourself and don’t take things too seriously. One activity that my mom introduced to us last year that you can take to your holiday gatherings is a hysterical, but a very, simple competitive game that only requires ten bucks, cardboard boxes, a Santa hat, and two oven mitts. You need at least three boxes, each smaller than another and the 10 dollars is stashed in the smallest box. Each box is gift-wrapped. The object of the game to tear open each box in under 30 seconds while wearing box the Santa hat and the oven mitts. Once your 30 seconds is up, you must give your ridiculous looking accessories to the next person. The person to open the last box and get the 10 dollars wins. If you take away anything away from this post, I hope it’s my mom’s hilarious, fun game!

11. Learn to say no

FOMO or fear of missing out stems from the anxiety that there may be something else that we could be doing or being that might be better than what we are doing currently. To make the most of your holiday season, learn to say no to some of the parties or gatherings you might be invited to. If you are rushing around to activity to activity, you might not be able to truly appreciate the people that are around you now. Be conditional on the activities you say yes to and know exactly why you want to be there. Be intentional about the people you want to spend your time and be grateful for why they are important to you.

12. Spend more time outside

The worst part about the winter season is getting home from work when it’s still dark outside. If your jobs allow, try to rearrange your schedule as much as you can to spend more time in the sunlight to elevate your serotonin levels. You can try waking up a little earlier to walk to work in the sun or even go for a coffee break outside. Serotonin is a ‘feel-good’ hormone that limits anxiety and stress so that sunlight can enhance your well-being with this important chemical.

 

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Kaitlin Lehmann, M.A. Psychology
Kaitlin Lehmann, M.A. Psychology

My name is Kaitlin and I graduated from Wagner College with a BA in Psychology with minors in German and Education. I then completed my Master’s degree in Experimental Psychology at American University where I was a research assistant using eye-tracking to examine facial emotion recognition, borderline personality features, and pharmaceutical advertising. I currently live in Philadelphia working as a Clinical Trial Coordinator for patients with osteoarthritis and am interested in individual differences such as emotion dysregulation that predict physical outcomes such as a pain. In my free time, I enjoy running, stand-up comedy, and hiking with my dog, Millie.

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