Don’t let the ‘Holiday Blues’ get you down

OKEECHOBEE — It’s that time of year again! Colorful lights are twinkling throughout neighborhoods, stories of history and faith are shared with family and friends, and ugly sweaters are being donned for parties and celebrations. It is a time for merriment and cheer, love and hope, togetherness, joy, and … sadness?

It seems hard to believe that in the midst of such a festive season anyone could ever feel down. We are surrounded by happiness and excitement, it feels almost selfish to not be reveling in the same joy as those around us — absorbing every bit of “the most wonderful time of the year.”

The truth is, holiday blues can affect anyone, regardless of religious beliefs or family traditions. They can strike whether you sing Christmas carols or light a menorah, simply welcome the sudden chill in the air, or celebrate any number of other ways this time of year.

They leave us feeling less like a certain “Jolly Old Elf” and more like the Grinch — grouchy, stressed and anxious, with a heart that feels shriveled and uncomfortably disproportionate compared to its usual chest-filling size.

When it comes to experiencing the holiday blues, know that such feelings are surprisingly common. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of participants noticed a significant increase in stress during the holiday season, citing commercialism, a lack of time and money, family gatherings, and the pressures of gift-giving as sources of this strain. The National Alliance on Mental Illness also adds that those stressors can exacerbate a variety of underlying issues. These issues can include current events, economics, personal grief, loneliness, relationship troubles and illness.

If the tidings of the season are to blame, then what can we do to alleviate such stress without completely removing ourselves from the celebration?

• Be realistic. Most of us do not live in palatial homes where every square inch is perfectly adorned for the holiday season. Lavish parties, sleigh rides and pristine towers of gifts may seem to fit perfectly within your favorite Hallmark movie, but for those of us without professional production crews and Hollywood-esque budgets, that level of “perfection” isn’t attainable, and that’s OK!

• Keep it simple. Focus on a few traditions you and your family love. Looking at holiday decorations in your neighborhood, singing carols and baking Christmas cookies can be wonderful experiences — but don’t feel like you have to do it all.

• Take time for yourself. Whether it means 10 minutes in your room to meditate or pray, a walk around your neighborhood to clear your head, taking a slightly longer route to pick the kids up from school, or just a moment of deep breathing — take a short break to relax and refocus on what is most important to you.

• Reach out. Ask for help when the pressure seems too great. Look to a spouse, family member or close friend to help you carry the load and spread the responsibilities of the holidays. If the holiday blues seem to stick around longer than you expect, or if the effects are keeping you from participating in your everyday life, your symptoms may be better described as depression — a medical condition that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. If you believe that is the case, please contact a medical professional.

• Finally, learn to say no. We live in a society that can be overwhelming in its expectations, but when it comes to our own health and happiness and that of our family, sometimes taking a step back from the hustle and bustle is what we really need.

While the holiday blues may seem like a never-ending loop of stress and sadness this time of year, there is good news — as, for most, the end of the holidays also signifies the end of this seasonal strain. As quickly as this extra stress can arrive, it can also disappear, opening our eyes to all the possibilities of a brand new year.

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