Dr. Cutts On Air: Click here if you missed my appearance on radio station WPFW 89.3 FM Dec. 12 “Beating the Holiday Blues” with Sheila Alexander-Reid on “Inside Out“
Winter months can bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and for some this may be exacerbated by holiday blues. Symptoms of winter SAD usually begin in October or November and subside in March or April. Some folks begin to slump as early as August, while others remain well until January. Depressions are usually mild to moderate, but they can also be severe. Even if you don’t suffer from SAD, gloomy winter months may bring you down and for many people the holiday season can be a tough time. Below are my top 10 tips for beating the winter/holiday blues.
#1: Exercise. Exercise is crucial in combating depression, staving off Alzheimer’s and keeping off unwanted pounds. Do some kind of physical activity you enjoy at least three times a week for 30 mins each time. Exercise can release endorphins and reduce stress. Vary your routine and have fun with it. I keep it simple with walks in the woods and my yoga practice.
#2: Get Light and Vitamin D. Get outside when you can in the sunshine even if it’s cold the sun’s rays can lift your mood. Being in nature lifts the spirits of many. I’m lucky enough to get out during the days but some people get relief from phototherapy using light boxes and now they even just have single bulbs ranging from about $10-$20. I use the 45W Alzo Digital Joyuous LightFull Spectrum. The light boxes range from about $30-$150. Not all light boxes are effective for treating SAD. Before buying one you may want to read this article from About Health.
Regarding Vit. D, most people’s levels seem to be low so a supplement may be a good idea for you. Note: to get full benefits of the sun approx 40% of your skin needs to be exposed to sunlight so don’t assume the sun in winter when you are all budled up is quite the same. According to the Mayo Clinic, “The recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 400 international units (IU) for children up to age 12 months, 600 IU for ages 1 to 70 years, and 800 IU for people over 70 years.”
#3: Laugh and Have Fun. Do me a favor. Smile. Just smile right now for no reason and see if you don’t feel better. When we laugh and smile this action sends a message to our brains that we are happy. Laughing can release endorphins. Watch funny movies, listen to comedy (I have many comedians plugged into my Pandora station) get together with friends, play games. Just do stuff you enjoy with people who make you laugh. When down you may feel like isolating…DON’T!
#4: Be of Service. Nothing lifts the spirit like getting outside of yourself and doing something for someone else. There are so many ways to bring joy to others. Think of things you can do and do them. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or just do some favors for friends and family. The opportunities are endless. If you can’t come up with anything check out Simple Ways to Give Back…
#5: Lower Your Expectations. Holidays are often stressful because so many people are striving for a Norman Rockwell type of holiday. Stop it! Don Miguel Ruiz has the right idea with his fourth of his Four Agreements; Always do Your Best. But this isn’t an invitation to perfectionism. It means do your best then leave the rest. Stop trying to control, to be perfect. There is no such thing as the perfect family, party or anything. Don’t compare your experience to anyone else’s. High expectations lead to stress, disappointment, and often resentment. Lower your expectations and watch your serenity and happiness rise.
#6: Practice Gratitude. Holidays are also a great time for people to compare their lives to others and feel lacking. Single people may feel lonely because they don’t have anyone to kiss under the misletoe. Divorced parents may stress about splitting holidays. Kids with divorced parents may be unsure of who to spend time with. Holiday time may also remind you of loved ones who have passed away. All of these situations can lead us to feel a sense of lack. The antidote for this is GRATITUDE. Focus on what you do have and give thanks for it. Accept and bless YOUR circumstances. When I feel down I write a gratitude list of at least 10 things for which I’m grateful. A roof over your head? A job? Food? Friends?These things are pretty awesome!
#7: Get in the Holiday Spirit. Instead of being a Grinch or old Ebeneezer and trying to hide from the season, get into it. Much of our suffering comes from resistance and peace comes with acceptance so do something that’s connected to the season. Decorate the house, go see decorations, have a holiday gathering. I personally like to go visit my favorite Christmas tree every year. I skip the national xmas tree in favor of the one set up in front of the US Capitol. It’s gorgeous and one of my holiday traditions to visit it.
#8: Exercise Your Spiritual Muscle. Many people draw strength and happiness from a spiritual or religious life. If you have a spiritual or religious practice increase it at this time. Consider increasing attendance at spiritual and religious meetings. If you pray and or meditate up it. If you are a member of a 12-step program be sure to up your meeting attendance and stay in touch with others in your program. The holiday season is NOT the time to slack off or isolate.
A special note to food and substance addicts: Holidays can be tougher because of the increased use of food and alcohol by those around you. Surround yourself with people who don’t overdo it and better yet with others in your program who practice sobriety and abstinence. If you think you have a problem with alcohol and want to check out a 12-step program visit Alcoholics Anonymous and if food is an issue check out Overeaters Anonymous.
#9: Self Care is Key. This may seem like common sense, but it’s important to take care of yourself to combat depression and the blues. Don’t overdo it, get rest and eat properly. People tend to crave carbs in the winter and when down because eating carbs can boost your serotonin levels. This can lead to winter weight gain. It’s okay to indulge in a bit of comfort food, like pasta and noodle soup but just don’t over do it and remember to exercise too. If you take medication for depression stick to your regimen and be sure to consult your psychiatrist or general practitioner before making any changes.
#10: Be Creative. This tip is kind of a free for all. If you have a creative outlet like painting or cooking or making jewelry (like I do) then get into it. Doing things you enjoy will lift your spirits. If your creative talent means you make things then share these things as gifts. This tip also means come up with your own creative ways to spend the holidays. If you don’t like traditional holiday happenings then do something you enjoy. This may mean getting out of town. Do whatever makes you feel good as long as it’s healthy.
I hope you found something you can use here. Maybe you have your own tips. Share them here or feel free to leave a comment. Wishing you a joyful and peaceful season.
You may also enjoy my post F.U.N. The 5-Point Plan.