Why People Get Depressed at Holiday Time

Exercise to feel healthier

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With so much going on during the holidays, working out often takes a back seat. Plus, what’s the point if you’re already being unhealthy by eating and drinking too much, right? Well, along with avoiding those other bad habits, it’s wise to carve out time for physical activity. If not getting enough exercise adds to feeling poorly physically and mentally, getting more exercise leads to feeling good and busting holiday sadness. And that doesn’t have to mean spending hours at the gym. “You can keep active by parking a little further from the store to walk, climbing the escalator, or taking stairs instead of elevators,” Dr. Serani says. “Those little bursts of energy will reduce some of the stress you’re feeling.” Use this simple trick to actually enjoy your exercise routine.

Get enough “me” time

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With all the craziness around the holidays, taking care of ourselves can fall to the bottom of our to-do list. But not making time for self-care can lead to feeling down in the dumps. “You can shift your neurochemistry by simply pampering yourself,” Serani says. “You don’t have to book a spa weekend to get the benefits. Consider fragrant baths, a hot cup of tea, a quiet moment in the car, lighting candles, and cuddling with a loved one. These sensorial things raise dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, feel good hormones that improve mood.” Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, too, which can help with mood and resilience to stress.

Manage seasonal affective disorder

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Although not directly holiday related, seasonal affective disorder (is it any wonder the acronym spells SAD?) hits when the days get short, exactly around the holidays. “Circadian rhythm needs sunlight to adequately produce the hormone melatonin, which runs our sleep/wake cycle and well-being,” Serani says. “Less sun means disruption in melatonin—and this can set off irritability, difficulty concentrating, sleeping problems, headache, and fatigue.” In order to counterbalance its effects, get outside for a few minutes, or sit near a window in mid-day. “You’ll need about 20 minutes a day to keep your body clock on time,’” she says. You also can try to adjust mentally to the increasing darkness. Studies in Norway have shown that even though there is very little daylight, Norwegians don’t suffer from wintertime depression at an increased rate. Why? They keep their mood bright with the tradition of “koselig,” which means a sense of coziness: Think skiing, candlelight, fuzzy blankets, candlelight, and ice skating. This is one of the best ways to beat seasonal affect disorder, and it’s free.

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