The holidays can be a tough time for people. Think of all of the social and environmental stressors we face:
- there’s the stress of work, with end-of-year reviews and mandatory holiday parties;
- there’s the stress of home life, as we deal with family members we sometimes try to keep at arm’s length, plus the financial burden of making sure loved ones have great gifts; and,
- there’s the environmental stress of winter, with shorter spans of daylight, cold winds, and gray skies.
These stressors can have a real impact on our mental health. The Mayo Clinic and the National Alliance on Mental Illness both report that the holidays are frequently associated with depression and other stress-related mood disorders. Colloquially, this is known as the “holiday blues.”
The holiday blues can be rough, but there are a lot of great ways to beat them and have a happy and healthy holiday season. This article presents five amazing ways to beat the holiday blues. Remember, though, if you are feeling overwhelmed by depression or stress, you should consult a professional.
Five Ways to Beat the Holiday Blues
Mindfulness and Meditation
Over the past forty years, science has shown that mindfulness-based meditation is linked to overcoming the darker moments in our lives, much like the holiday blues, and has even shown great success in helping veterans overcome PTSD. Mindfulness provides three key benefits that help during the holidays:
- Mindfulness helps us be more self-aware, so that we are better able to identify our emotional states and become less reactive. This helps reduce conflict, a common problem over the holidays.
- Mindfulness helps us maintain a higher level of self-confidence. For those fighting the holiday blues, self-confidence is a great way to combat negative self-talk and negative emotions.
- Mindfulness helps us be more present with others, making us more appreciative, even if we are in conflict with them.
With the growth of meditation’s popularity, there are a number of free and low cost options available to help you learn this valuable skill.
– Insight Timer – this free option includes numerous meditations by noted secular and Buddhist teachers, including Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, and Ram Dass.
- Buddhify – Unique for its focus on shorter meditations, Buddhify is a paid app (not a subscription) that provides meditations tailored to various activities (walking, commuting, trying to sleep, and the like).
- Calm – A subscription-based app, Calm includes daily meditations, meditation training courses, focus-oriented music, and what it refers to as “sleep stories,” designed to help those with insomnia.
- Headspace – Also a subscription service, Headspace was founded by British author Andy Puddicombe, whose TED talk on meditation was one of the chief inspirations for the current popularity of the practice.
High-Intensity Interval Training (“HIIT”)
For those not already familiar with HIIT workouts, they involve high-intensity cardio and plyometric exercises with short intervals of rest between activities (for example, it may involve 60 seconds of box jumps, a 15-second rest break, then 60 seconds of burpees or Turkish get-ups). While adding kettlebells, a jumprope, or a rowing machine may improve a HIIT workout, one benefit for those traveling over the holidays is that HIIT workouts can be done with sweat-pouring effectiveness even without any equipment.
HIIT workouts are a great way to maintain your sanity over the holidays, particularly given that most people tend to overeat – and eat the wrong things – during this period. HIIT workouts are perfect for losing weight and keeping away winter weight-gain because they keep your heart rate up over the entire course of the workout.
HIIT is good for your mental health. Like all exercise, HIIT will cause the release of endorphins, which have been shown to reduce the impact of depression and seasonal affective disorder. HIIT also works to alleviate the negative impact of all of the sugary holiday treats by helping to regulate your blood sugar. Not only does that help prevent diabetes, but regulating blood sugar has been shown to help one’s mental state.
HIIT helps improve vascular health – the health of our heart and blood vessels – helping you avoid the unusual trend of holiday heart attacks specifically and lower your blood pressure generally. The medical community has found that the holiday season has been associated with an increase in heart attack-related fatalities. Partly due to lifestyle choices (i.e., increased alcohol consumption, air travel, and poor eating habits) and partly due to constriction of blood vessels during the colder months, the period between Christmas Eve and New Years has a higher number of heart attack-induced fatalities than other times of the year. HIIT’s positive impact on our vascular system helps avoid such a tragic end to the holiday season.
While the physical benefits of yoga are relatively obvious in terms of improved flexibility, core strength, and fat burning, yoga, like meditation, has been shown to have a dramatic positive impact on mental health.
Harvard Medical School reported that yoga has been linked to improvements like a reduction in chronic pain (such as fibromyalgia). New studies are also showing that yoga helps alleviate the symptoms of diseases like depression, anxiety disorder, eating disorders, and schizophrenia. Just like with depression, yoga can help alleviate the Holiday Blues (check out our schedule for upcoming yoga classes!)
Normally, when you think of the benefits of massage, you think of relieving muscle soreness, restoring a greater range of movement, and the like. However, recent studies are showing that massage is also good for your mental health. Scientists are finding that regular massage therapy helps reduce anxiety levels and lower blood pressure, two important benefits in an age when people are frequently experiencing an overabundance of stress. Additional research suggests that massage therapy may help reduce the symptoms of depression. For those dealing with seasonal affective disorder or the winter blues, being able to use massage to help reduce their symptoms while being pampered seems like a double win.
The Pacific Northwest’s dark winters can be incredibly difficult, leading many to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. Light therapy, where lamps designed to mimic the effects of sunlight are used, has been shown to help a wide variety of people, from those that suffer from depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder to those who suffer from insomnia and even some forms of bipolar disorder.
While people who have been diagnosed with conditions like depression and bipolar disorder should not change how they treat their conditions without medical guidance, others may find that light therapy helps them reset their internal clocks when faced with the darker parts of the year. One positive feature of light therapy is that it can be added into the ordinary tasks we do everyday, whether reading mail, working on the computer, or reading.
There are a wide variety of lamps available for light therapy, but here are a few examples:
- the budget option: the Circadian Optics Lumine Light Therapy Lamp;
- the travel option: the Verilux HappyLight Liberty;
- the designer option: the Carex Day-Light Classic Plus; and,
- the desk lamp option: the Circadian Optics Lumos Light Therapy Lamp.
While the holiday season can be rough on people, it is possible to take certain steps to ensure that stress, cold weather, and limited daylight don’t dim your enjoyment of the season. Taking time out of your day to enjoy a moment of meditation, yoga, a good workout, or massage isn’t just relaxing; it helps keep you well.