Monthly Archives: December 2014

Top 10 Healthiest New Year’s Resolutions

New Year, healthier you

by Alyssa Sparacino

New Year’s resolutions are a bit like babies: They’re fun to make but extremely difficult to maintain.

Each January, roughly one in three Americans resolve to better themselves in some way. A much smaller percentage of people actually make good on those resolutions. While about 75% of people stick to their goals for at least a week, less than half (46%) are still on target six months later, a 2002 study found.

It’s hard to keep up the enthusiasm months after you’ve swept up the confetti, but it’s not impossible. This year, pick one of the following worthy resolutions, and stick with it. Here’s to your health! read more

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Beating the Holiday Blues

Beating the Holiday Blues

By MAUD PURCELL, LCSW, CEAP

Joy to the world! ‘Tis the season to be jolly! Festive music fills the air; holiday cheer abounds. Everyone is happy at holiday time — right? Wrong. Truth be told, many people feel lonely, sad, anxious and depressed at this time of year. How can this be?

There are many reasons why people feel down at holiday time. Here are the key causes for the holiday blues:

  • Pressure to feel merry: Do you feel joyous when holiday decorations go up and store windows fill with gifts? If you don’t, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. The disparity between how you actually feel and what you think you are supposed to feel can cause you guilt and confusion. This phenomenon can start you off on the wrong foot, even before the festivities begin.
  • Remembrances of holidays past: Consciously or unconsciously, you have a mental record of previous holidays. Your mood may be contaminated by the specter of sad holidays past. If your current life circumstances are unhappy, however, you may long for the happy holidays you once enjoyed.
  • Reminders of loved ones lost: Holidays are a time for reflection. All too often your thoughts turn to beloved family members and friends who have passed away. The subsequent sense of loss you feel can spoil even the happiest of celebrations.
  • Loneliness: Holidays can be dreadfully lonely if you don’t have a significant other. Additionally, separation from family members (emotional or geographic) can be particularly painful at this time of year.
  • Financial hardship: One of the joys of the holiday season is to give to others. If your financial resources are severely limited at this time of year you are likely to feel insufficient, and as though you are “on the outside looking in.”
  • In search of sunlight: Many people are adversely impacted by the relative loss of sunlight they experience during the winter months. This phenomenon even has a name: seasonal affective disorder or SAD. Your holiday blues will only be exacerbated by limited sunshine.

Do any of these reasons for feeling bummed sound familiar? Don’t despair. Here are some ways for you to effectively beat those holiday blues:

  • It’s OK to feel what you feel: If you don’t feel as happy as you think you should, don’t fight it. Forcing feelings that aren’t there will only make matters worse, and there really aren’t any “shoulds” about it.
  • Seek sun and endorphins: If you find yourself feeling blue, be sure to get at least 20 minutes of sunlight each day. This isn’t always easy to do when winter weather hits, but do your best. And don’t forget to exercise. Both sunlight and exercise help to fight any chemical causes for your holiday funk.
  • Help someone else: It’s hard to feel down while you are busy helping someone else. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, wrap gifts for unfortunate kids, or spend time with an elderly relative or friend. Instead of feeling glum you’ll find yourself experiencing what the holidays are really about: Giving to others.
  • Create your own traditions: Contrary to popular opinion, there are no rules for how you spend your holidays. So if old traditions bring up unhappy memories, start new ones. If you don’t have family, share the holidays with good friends. Don’t wait for them to include you; make them welcome in your home instead. If cooking a Christmas dinner feels like a drag, do brunch. If going to a synagogue or a church service dampens your spirits, have your own worship service outdoors, at home or wherever you wish.
  • Stay busy and avoid unstructured time: If you know the holidays are difficult for you, why not plan ahead and minimize your difficult feelings. Try to fill your calendar with fun events. Too much time spent alone may bring you to an old, familiar place: down.

Now here’s the most important thing you can do to beat those blues: No matter what is happening in your life, think of the blessings you do have. Taking stock of all of the positives in your life — right here and now — can go a long way toward ending your “bah humbug” mood.

With a little bit of planning and forethought, the holidays can be wonderful — and not because they are supposed to be.

The Psychology of the “Holiday Blues”

There are many reasons people feel depressed during the holidays, and another round of eggnog probably won’t help.

Written by David Heitz | Published on December 23, 2013

Not all of us find ourselves tapping our toes along with “Jingle Bells” during the holidays. For some, days meant to be jolly are about as much fun as sour eggnog.

The “holiday blues” is sadness, anxiety, and sometimes depression that manifests during the holiday season. For some people, it inevitably comes along with each winter’s gloom.

Debunk 9 Common Myths About Depression »

For example, someone who lost a best friend on Christmas Eve 20 years ago may not feel like going caroling this year either.

“That’s when we have these particular illnesses, deaths, or trauma,” said Sam Moreno, a psychologist at the Robert Young Center for Community Mental Health in Moline, Ill. “The holidays trigger some kind of past unpleasantness, and it permeates them.”

Others prefer not to be reminded of their family’s dysfunction and loathe annual get-togethers.

“Many people have had unpleasant situations throughout the holidays via a function of families and personalities,” Moreno told Healthline. “They look at the holidays, and they’re not what we see on TV or the movies.”

Plus, burning the candle at both ends takes a toll. Leading up to the holidays, we work extra hard to prepare for time off, while at the same time cooking, shopping, and planning parties. “Afterward, some people are just down,” Moreno said. “You need to rest, sleep, and take care of yourself.”

On the flip side, going back to everyday life after the holidays sometimes seems bland and depressing. “I usually say to people who tell me they like the holidays, ‘That’s great. But what are you going to do in January? And February?’” Moreno said.

Lastly, if you feel despondent regularly during the dark winter months you may have seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. While little is known about SAD, researchers at Yale University hope to find some answers soon. Experts theorize that this type of seasonal depression may be triggered by a lack of UV light from the sun, and some recommend spending time beneath a UV lamp.

People with SAD often crave sugar, overeat, and generally become lethargic and withdrawn. Symptoms may begin as early as September and last until April. More than 11 million Americans suffer from SAD, and research shows women may be four times as likely to have SAD symptoms as men.

Banishing the Holiday Doldrums

It’s very important to maintain realistic expectations, Moreno said. “We can be mostly responsible for our own efforts, but we can’t predict the outcomes. A person has to remember, ‘I’ve got to be happy with myself for cooking this because I’m doing my best, but I realize some people might not like it or come to my party.’”

Besides UV light therapy, another approach to treating SAD involves teaching someone how to change the way he or she thinks about and reacts to wintertime sadness. This is known as cognitive-behavioral therapy, and clinical trials are currently under way at the University of Vermont to measure how well it works for people with SAD.

If symptoms persist for more than a couple of weeks or sadness begins to affect your work or home life, it’s a good idea to be evaluated for depression by a mental health professional.

How to Cope with Being Anxious and Alone for the Holidays

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The holiday season of 2013 was the worst of my life. I was grieving the end of a relationship. I was mourning my independence because I had to move back in with my parents. I was suicidal. I was broke. All in all, I felt like a disaster. But I got through it. I wasn’t sure I was going to, but I did. It was, however, one of the loneliest times of my life.

The holiday season can be an especially lonely time for anxious people. Here's some tips for how to cope with being anxious and alone for the holidays.Starting this week, millions of people will face the supposedly “most wonderful time of the year” anxious and alone. And I use the term “alone” in a broad sense. Being alone for the holidays can include:

  • Being with family but going through emotional stuff (like depression or anxiety) that you feel they wouldn’t understand and that you can’t talk about.
  • Coping with private grief, loss, or physical illness that requires you to put on a brave face.
  • Dealing with stigma about sexual orientation and/or mental health stigma.
  • Being literally alone — spending the holidays totally isolated and by yourself.

The holidays are a painful time, and our culture still lies about that for some bizarre reason, even though everyone seems to know it. Even people without mood disorders can struggle with finding meaning this time of year. Lots of people are suffering, often in silence. I take some comfort in that.

Coping with the Holidays When You’re Anxious and Alone

If you’re feeling anxious, alone and lacking in the holiday spirit department this season, either by yourself or with others, here are some coping strategies you can try:

  • Create your own meaningful rituals — Our modern holidays harken back to older rituals that celebrated harvest time, the changing on the seasons, etc. Rituals are simply patterns of human behavior meant to inspire meaningful, purposeful, existence and are fair game for individual interpretation. What objects, music, dances, and words inspire you? Can you use them to create your own sense of holiday meaning?
  • Know that it will pass — The holiday season may be a time of heightened anxiety, but it’s actually pretty short. It will pass, just like it does every year.
  • Use distress tolerance skills – Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a skills-based cognitive therapy to combat self-harming behavior. Its skill set on tolerating intense emotions is helpful for getting through periods of raw pain.
  • Fake it — Another DBT skill I’ve found helpful in uncomfortable social situations is called opposite action, a.k.a. “acting as if,” a.k.a. faking it. It’s a way to cope with the tedious small talk and awkward questions at holiday gatherings by pretending it doesn’t bother you and that you’re actually kind of into it. Strangely enough, pretending to be interested in something can actually make it more bearable. Weird, huh?
  • Reach out online — There are a lot of other anxious, lonely people reaching out for support online, including the HealthyPlace forums, and on one of my favorite Facebook groups about dealing with depression.

I hope something I’ve said here helps you with being alone and anxious this holiday season. I won’t say it’s going to be easy. I won’t even say it’s going to be good. But I will say that it’s going to be okay. We’ll get through it, and we can put 2014 in the rear-view mirror. We may feel alone, but the reality is, we’re not. Article from Healthy Place.

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