Don't let anxiety rule this holiday season

November 23, 2015 | by Jacqueline Ross, M.D.
Everyone loves George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life."  He's the poster boy for holiday blues. Many of us can relate to his distress, at least to some degree.

The holiday season can bring a hectic schedule, financial pressure and expectations about how the holidays "should be.” Throw in some tense family gatherings, a divorce, the loss of a loved one or difficulty getting pregnant, and stress levels can skyrocket.

Even the time of year can contribute to holiday sadness. Fall and winter mean shorter days, which triggers Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in some people.

There are things we can do to beat the blues. Try these spirit-lifting strategies during the holidays and throughout the year:

Remember the basics.  Get eight hours of sleep to ease depression and anxiety. To head off irritability, try eating six small meals during the day. Never skip a meal. Keep your endorphins up with regular exercise.

Set realistic goals.  The holidays can be enjoyable without being perfect.  You don't need to spend more on gifts than you can afford.  Ask for help with tasks when you need it.

Stay connected.  A good social support system can help keep your spirits up.

Consider volunteering. Helping others often prompts feelings of well-being.

Manage stress with yoga or meditation.  Set aside 5 to 10 minutes a day for deep relaxation and reflection—it makes a difference.  If you suffer from SAD, research light therapy and spend time outdoors on sunny days.

Be mindful of how severe your depressed feelings are and how long they last. If you feel so bad that you're having trouble functioning, or you think that life is not worth living, it's time to get help.

Talk to your primary care doctor if you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed. They can lead you to the resources you may need to feel better.

To learn if you’re at risk for depression, take our free, online Depression Aware test.

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