The holiday season is upon us. Christmas carols will play in the stores while we shop. We can expect the inevitable movies about a Scrooge-like character discovering the holiday spirit. There are Christmas cookies to bake for Santa, and if we’ve been good this year, there will be presents to open under the tree. There will be ugly holiday sweaters to don and sprigs of mistletoe under which to kiss our sweethearts.
Yet, if the holidays are the season to be jolly, they are also the season to be unjolly. It can be a stressful time of year for all the joy popular culture associates with the holiday season. According to the American Psychological Association, the rise in holiday stress is due to an increase in familial and financial obligations on top of the demands of our daily routines. This uptick in responsibilities can produce an emotional strain unique to the holiday season. Couple that with colder weather and shorter days, and you have the ideal recipe for feeling a little down. While holiday stress can make it challenging to get into the Christmas spirit, there are things you can do to beat those winter blues.
Several scientific studies have explored the relationship between seasonal depression and the decrease in sunlight exposure during the fall and winter months. The research suggests that daily exposure to sunlight is an effective antidote for the winter blues. Of course, those with busy working schedules may find it problematic to get direct sun exposure every day. However, that need not be an impediment. Drink your morning cup of coffee outside on the porch or, if it is too cold, drink it while sitting next to a window. Take a short walk during your lunch hour. Spend extra time outdoors on the weekends. Getting that extra dose of sunshine need not occur at one time. Interspersing exposure to sunlight throughout the day and the week can be helpful.
Perhaps the most hated word in the English language, the word “exercise” often evokes feelings of dread. It conjures thoughts of our holiday weight gain. Post-Christmas talk usually centers around New Year’s resolutions to lose weight. However, those who see the benefits of exercise as only for weight loss are missing the bigger picture. Exercise is an effective treatment for depression due to the release of endorphins which boost mood. Reaping the benefits of exercise to chase away the winter blues can be straightforward. Any physical activity that elevates your heart rate at least moderately offers mental health benefits. Walking, for example, is a low-impact activity that doesn’t require any particular type of equipment. It can be done anywhere, making it ideal for those who don’t love exercise.
The benefits of yoga to improving mental health are numerous. Yoga focuses on the breath flowing in time with the body’s movement into specific postures. Slowing the breath relaxes the heart rate, and from there, the rest of the body quickly follows suit. As a result, yoga fosters a mind-body connection that helps practitioners release stress. Fortunately, the popularity of yoga means that classes are easily accessible. Readers who may not have access to in-person classes can use the internet. YouTube offers plenty of free videos for those who want to take advantage of the therapeutic nature of yoga from the privacy of their own home.
Mindfulness is purposeful present moment awareness that is without judgment. It is an effective coping tool for beating the winter blues because it emphasizes greater self-acceptance and diffusion from thoughts. Fortunately, mindfulness practices are effortless. Meditation using the breath as a focal point is the most common introduction to mindfulness. Beginners should aim for 1 to 2 minutes of practice, whereas more experienced practitioners could do longer if they so choose. Although the breath is a focal point, the mind will wander. The goal is to notice your thoughts and gently bring your attention back to the breath - kindly and without judgment or criticism of the self. It is that simple. Those readers who need more guidance and direction might try apps like Calm or Headspace, which offer a variety of meditation exercises. Mindfulness is adaptable to any activity at any time or place. Try being mindful when you brush your teeth in the morning. Or try practicing mindfulness every time you sit down during the day. Although it might seem to the inexperienced that something so simple could not alleviate the winter blues, mindfulness offers a tremendous benefit to mental health.
Good Sleep and Good Nutrition
The physical body and mental health are intrinsically linked. Ignoring one can negatively impact the other. It is easy to ignore our basic needs in our hectic lives. When we experience stress, our sleep and our nutrition usually suffer first. It is vital to ensure we get enough sleep and eat a well-balanced diet to manage holiday stress. Sleep is a requirement for optimal brain health. Aim for about 8 hours of sleep a night. Try to go to sleep at the same time each day. If falling asleep proves challenging, practice a relaxation exercise before bed. Taking long, slow, and deep breaths relaxes the body, making it easier to fall asleep. In addition to sleep, our bodies have basic nutritional needs. Make sure you eat a well-balanced diet that includes whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruit, and protein. Reduce your intake of added sugars, sodium, and processed food. When a person neglects their sleep and diet, their emotional health suffers. Focusing on basic self-care needs is a great way to battle the winter blues.
Finally, remember the holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, peace, and togetherness. Have fun. Enjoy the company of those you care for the most. Watch a comedy with a loved one. Play a board game with family members. Enjoy an impromptu lunch or informal dinner with a treasured friend. Laughter in the company of loved ones is the best medicine for beating the winter blues.
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- 6 Tips for Beating the Winter Blues and Dealing with Holiday Stress - December 16, 2021
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