Some see holiday red and green, but you’re seeing the blues

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By Dr. Lisa Kuhlman, Kaiser Permanente

The holidays are typically a happy time of year.

However, over the past two years, many have faced difficulties coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, which may lead to mixed emotions about the holiday season. For some, the holidays may actually trigger feelings of sadness, anxiety, loneliness or loss.

It may be difficult to explain why you are feeling down during this time of year, but the “holiday blues” are real. These feelings can have a direct impact on not only your mood but your body. You may have headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, stomach issues, insomnia, eating too much or too little, and angry outbursts. Some people turn to drugs, tobacco or alcohol to cope.

Here are some of the reasons why you may be feeling a little more blue this time of year, and what you can do to bring more joy back into the holidays:

• The holidays can be hard when you’re grieving the loss of a loved one. The pandemic may have made this harder. Don’t bear these feelings alone. You may be physically distanced but don’t be emotionally distanced. It’s OK to ask for help and let others be there with you through this difficult time.
• Worries about money can be a significant cause of stress or depression. You may feel like it’s important to spend more and buy extravagant gifts this year. But setting a budget can help. Avoid social media and shopping sites as this may increase your temptation to spend more. Be realistic about what you can spend, and don’t spend more than you’ve planned. You don’t want to be paying for those gifts in the new year.
• You don’t have to spend money to show your loved ones how much you care about them. Any gift that is meaningful and personal can be just as impressive. A gift of time or an experience can create lasting memories. A photo album or scrapbook of those shared experiences can be particularly meaningful. You might want to express your appreciation with a handwritten letter to let people know how important they are to you.
• Resist the pressure to create the perfect holiday. Focus on what makes holidays special for you and your family. There may be rituals or activities that you really don’t enjoy, but feel like you have to do, such as sending out holiday cards, decorating or preparing a large meal. It’s okay to disengage and only focus on the events and activities that do bring you joy. Giving yourself the option to say no, can be a gift in itself.
• Take care of your physical and emotional health. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule with at least eight hours of sleep a night to make sure you are well-rested. That alone can help improve your mood. Maintain your exercise routine. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. Even brisk 10-minute walks throughout the day can help. Enjoy treats in moderation while maintaining healthy eating habits. Avoid excessive alcohol when coping with stressful situations. Heavy drinking can impact your mood and actually enhance negative feelings.
• Seek out volunteer opportunities or ways help improve the lives of others. Volunteering or helping a neighbor can create positive feelings and offset any negativity or sadness you may be feeling.

Psychiatrist Lisa Kuhlman, M.D., is assistant physician in chief for mental health at Kaiser Permanente in the Napa Solano area, which is a partner of Solano Public Health.



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