By Sara Childre and Deborah Rozman
If you are feeling less than cheerful this holiday season, don’t feel bad about that. You have a lot of company. Recent events in the news have many reeling. 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 some of us could be feeling depressed.
If we don’t manage emotional 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, but in many situations, it’s due to too much stress. 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. (If feelings of depression last longer than a few weeks or if the symptoms are severe, it’s important to seek professional help.)
Here are some tips from HeartMath that can help prevent or overcome the holiday blues:
Be careful not to get caught up in over-extending yourself. Adding too much to your plate can turn what should be a good time enjoying the holiday season into an extra backpack of stress. Then you have to take the first week of the New Year just to recoup from it all. Instead, create space to enjoy yourself and the people in your life whom you love or enjoy being with. You can avoid this by slowing down in the midst of all the activities and checking in with yourself about how you’re really feeling. Observe your energies and feelings and learn to find more ease through it all.
Up Next – Notice and Ease
A simple tool proven to help us find more ease and dissipate stress as we go is called Notice and Ease. Use it as soon as you start to feel tense, anxious, overwhelmed or sad. It’s important to notice – become emotionally aware and acknowledge what you’re feeling, then to ease and “befriend” the reaction by holding it in your heart, then letting the stressful feeling ease out of your system. If you try and fight against the feeling or push it away, it just drains you. Keep using this tool for one minute or longer until you feel something lighten up, even if you don’t get to a complete release yet. Even a little ease can bring some relief and a more balanced perspective.
- Step 1: Notice and admit what you’re feeling.
- Step 2: Try and name the feeling.
- Step 3: Tell yourself to e-a-s-e- as you gently focus your attention in the area of the heart, relax as you breathe, and e-a-s-e- the stress out.
By admitting a feeling, whatever it is—worry, anxiety, frustration, anger, resistance or even a vague disturbance you can’t put your finger on—you slow down the emotional stress energy running through your system. In Step 3, you redirect your emotional energy to work for you and stop stress accumulation.
- 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 Coherence® 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.
Coming Up – more Tips for Beating Holiday Blues
- 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.
- A great way to enjoy more of the holiday spirit is by keeping your focus on genuinely appreciating and caring for others. Ask yourself each morning, “Who can I show a little more appreciation to, or who can I express more genuine care and kindness to today? It can be as simple as opening the door for someone or telling someone that you appreciate them. Genuine gestures of care and appreciation are often remembered long after the holiday glitter is gone. You’ll find this is a fun gift for the other person and a big gift to yourself in how much better it can make you feel.
- The holidays are an important time to find a deeper heart connection with people. Make that your focus and priority. Spend more time enjoying people and their holiday spirit, and that can help rekindle your holiday spirit.
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 myself, provides step-by-step tools for understanding and transforming depression through the power of the heart.