If you are feeling less than cheerful this holiday season, you have a lot of company. There’s a lot going on. I am finding more people are on edge, quicker to get irritated and uncertain about the future. Add the holidays on top of that, when we’re supposed to be feeling more joy, and it’s easy to understand why we could be feeling depressed.
In my last article, I shared 4 Key Tips to Prevent Holiday Stress. If we don’t manage stress during this time of year, it can lead to the holiday blues. Studies show that depression peaks during and after the holidays, especially for those prone to it. Unmet expectations, missing a loved one, excessive spending, even too much to eat or drink can bring on the blues. Trying to join in holiday cheer and not being able to do so can make anyone feel out of step, and add to a feeling of isolation.
Research shows that depression results from a chemical imbalance in the brain. However scientists aren’t exactly sure what causes the imbalance. People who are depressed appear to have lower levels of some neurotransmitters that control mood or elevated levels of cortisol, a hormone that accumulates in the body due to stress.*
How to prevent or overcome the holiday blues:
- Be realistic about your plans. If you spend all your energy on frantic holiday preparations, you may be “making over” the stress but it will still accumulate and could lead to the blues. Instead, create space to enjoy yourself and the people in your life whom you love or enjoy being with.
- Practice kindness and patience. These are heart feelings that nourish you and others, but they need to be engaged to provide the benefits. A simple adaption of HeartMath’s Quick CoherenceŽ technique can help you activate positive feelings of kindness and patience when you are irritable. It takes less than a minute to do.
Heart Focus – Focus your attention in the area of your heart.
Heart-Focused Breathing – As you focus in the area of your heart, imagine your breath is flowing in and out through that area. Breathe slowly and gently in through your heart and slowly and easily out through your heart.
Heart Feeling - Continue to breathe through the area of your heart. Activate feelings of genuine kindness and patience as you breathe. Keep doing this until you feel impatience, irritation or stress release.
- If you’re feeling sad, don’t expect to feel differently just because it’s the holidays. But do reach out to others. Doing something with a friend can yield a quiet warmth of the heart that will nurture you, even if you don’t feel like “celebrating.”
- If a loved one is absent or a relationship was broken, don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Talk about missed loved ones and fond memories, and emphasize the positive aspects of a relationship that has been lost. Allow yourself to put more energy into the relationships you do have now.
- Cultivate an attitude of appreciation. Each year brings its changes. Make a list of all you have to appreciate.
More resources: “Overcoming Depression” is a free resource in the Solutions for Well-Being section on IHM’s web site. Transforming Depression -The HeartMath Solution to Feeling Overwhelmed, Sad and Stressed by Doc Childre and Deborah Rozman, provides step-by-step tools for understanding and transforming depression through the power of the heart.
If feelings of depression last longer than a few weeks or if the symptoms are severe, it’s important to seek professional help.