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Health & Wellness

6 Ways to Find Joy when the Holidays Make You Blue

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When you’re wrapping presents and decking the halls this holiday season, don’t forget this important gift: be kind to yourself.

November and December may usher in a time of sadness for a variety of reasons, says psychologist Elaine Rodino, Ph.D. “I think at different ages and stages the issues are a little different,” says Rodino. You may have lost a loved one and feel lonely; you may feel sad if your grown children aren’t coming home for the holidays; if you’re squished in the sandwich generation, you may be stressed about planning a holiday that’s meaningful for multiple generations. Or you may be haunted by the past. “Sometimes people get the holiday blues because their childhood memories were very sad times at the holidays,” says Rodino. “Usually it’s some family dysfunction, like if there’s alcoholism in the family or abuse. Those are the feelings that usually come up, so people get this sick feeling during this time of year.”

Regardless of the reason, the important thing to know, says Rodino, is there’s hope. She shared the following tips to try and shake off the malaise and find joy during what may be a challenging time.

  1. Out with the old, in with the new. Don’t feel tied to your old family holiday traditions, whether it’s baking dozens of cookies, decorating an enormous tree, hosting an elaborate meal or any other ritual. Some old traditions may bring back sad memories, while others might just feel unsuited to your life today. “You don’t have to keep maintaining a tradition just because you did it for a few years, or 10 years. Make a new tradition,” says Rodino. It may feel empowering and energizing to blaze your own holiday trail.  
  2. Stick to your day-to-day routine. Between family visits, holiday parties and time off work, the holidays tend to throw a curve ball into the daily schedule. Try and do what you can to keep up with your usual health habits, like eating a balanced diet and exercising. “A lot of people get busy with Christmas shopping or preparing for events, and that makes them forget about their usual exercise routine. That isn’t good, because that exercise is good for managing stress,” says Rodino.  
  3. Do something kind for others. Find a non-profit that’s looking for volunteers and lend a helping hand over the holidays. This will get you out of the house and may give you a sense of purpose and fulfillment. “Volunteer at a soup kitchen or somewhere so you feel you’re really helping others,” says Rodino. “There’s a good feeling that comes from being good to other people, sharing that kindness.”
  4. Host a holiday dinner. Whether you’re alone or just feeling lonely, it’s safe to assume there are others feeling the same way. Invite some of your solo or empty-nester friends over for a holiday potluck. Let everyone chip in and share their favorite foods for the evening.
  5. Stay connected. If you’re a member of a church, a community center, a bowling league or any other group, keep in touch with them over the holidays and stay in communication with your social group. If you’re not involved in any of the above, and you’re feeling blue, consider what kind of group or organization you could join now and continue to be active in year-round.
  6. Give yourself permission to ask for help. Rodino says that if your sadness lasts into January, it may be more than just a case of the holiday blues. She says you may want to talk with your doctor or make an appointment with a psychologist to discuss what you’re feeling and why you might be feeling that way. A professional may be able to help you address the issue at hand and prepare for a possible recurrence when the holidays roll around again. “If it comes up next year, then you know what it is and there’s more of a sense of control about it,” she says. 

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