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How to combat the holiday blues at Christmas

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While Christmas can be a time of celebration and joy for some, for others the holidays can be challenging. This year is no exception. In fact, this year could be even more difficult. The hardships we face range from feeling lonely, or isolated from loved ones due to the pandemic, to experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder –- a form of depression that is triggered by shorter days, longer nights and colder weather. What are some ways we can manage these holiday blues?

Find a way to be together when apart

This has been a year of unexpected challenges and corresponding creativity. We’ve found ways to use our phones, tablets and computers to keep connected even when we’re apart. We want to keep using that. While speaking to someone via a screen isn’t the same as being able to see them in person, it’s better than being entirely isolated. We can continue to be creative in how we connect. Find ways to use the technology as a bridge to do something together. Try playing a game of charades as a group together over the computer or gather the family virtually for some of the traditional activities, like reading Christmas stories. Open presents together over a video chat. We won’t be able to recreate all our traditions perfectly this year but that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to include our loved ones when they aren’t physically present.

It’s OK to feel the way you feel

Give yourself permission to experience your emotions. This year has been unimaginably challenging for many people. There will be sadness, frustration and disappointment in varying measures this season. But acknowledging negative feelings can often help them pass more quickly than they would if we just tried to push them aside or bottle them up. As we acknowledge the elements of our situation that are disappointing, we are also better able to look for the things that bring us joy and gratitude. In the event that we feel overwhelmed, reach out to others. We can find comfort in the support of our loved ones. We also can seek additional support, if necessary, by contacting a counselor if we find that our emotions are more than we can process on our own. 

Find humor

Even in difficult situations, we want to try to find things that make us laugh. The Mayo Clinic reports that laughter decreases stress and improves overall physical and mental health. Laughing has the short-term benefit of increasing the amount of oxygen in our bodies, releasing endorphins in our brains and reducing our blood pressure. In the long term, laughing is shown to strengthen our immune systems and decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. So to combat the blues, find an old favorite or a new comedy that will make us chuckle or even laugh out loud.                                            

Stay active

When we feel lonely, we tend to feel stuck. We want to avoid the temptation to isolate further or even drift into wallowing in self-pity. Even though we may not be able to be with those we love, we still have the ability to do something that has meaning to us. We can look to find something that we enjoy, increase time in prayer, or do something that helps us to make a difference in our community. If we can’t be with our loved ones, we can look for safe and appropriate ways to volunteer. Maybe these holidays aren’t as we hoped they’d be, but we have the ability to do good for those in need around us.

Dr. Michael Horne is Catholic Charities’ director of clinical services.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020