4 Tips to Navigate the Holiday Emotions



Behavioral research has long-recognized the association of shorter days, less sunlight and an increase in people’s anxiety [1]. Along with an increase in anxiety, many individuals report a sense of melancholia or a general decrease in emotional well-being as the days get shorter. Serotonin is a hormone that affects mood, appetite and sleep. Shorter days and less sunlight can lead to lower serotonin production which is linked to feelings of melancholy and depression.

 

For some this can progress to seasonal affective disorder or S.A.D. A condition that is actually a form of depression. If you feel that your mood changes during autumn and winter are more serious than simply a change of seasons consult your healthcare provider or a mental health professional {Links below for online sources}.

 



 

It’s ok to experience a range of emotions during the holiday season. Additional duties such as shopping, cooking and entertaining out of town guests combined with the daily responsibilities of work and family can quickly lead to overwhelm. On the opposite end of the spectrum are individuals with small families or loved ones who live out of town. There is no sense of overwhelming duties or obligations but loneliness instead. The death of loved ones and experiencing the first Christmas or Hanukkah without a partner, child or parent can be especially challenging even for those with emotional resilience. Divorce, children moving away for careers and strained family relations can add to the stress of the season [2].

 

So How can you navigate the emotions of the season?

 

 

 

First, understand that it’s ok to be sad or nostalgic. Make space for your feelings, acknowledge them and allow time for your body and mind to process them. Journal your feelings or write a letter to your future self about why the holiday season affects your this way. Feelings are like clouds, they drift in and drift away.

 

 

 

4 Ways to Care for Yourself This Holiday Season

 

  1. Be realistic. Make a list of what you can reasonably accomplish along with regular daily obligations. Say ‘no’ politely but firmly. It’s ok to decline invitations. Do so promptly so the host can make other arrangements. Send a gratitude card expressing your appreciation for the invitation and decline. Remember, you are not responsible for making others happy. 
  2. Soak up the Sunshine. If you struggle with holiday melancholy or S.A.D. make a point to get outdoors in the sunshine daily. Go for a walk in a park or your neighborhood. Being outdoors even for a short time can make a big difference. If that is not possible or you live in a climate with limited hours of daylight make an appointment at a spa for light therapy. Listening to calming music or mindfulness breathing are excellent ways to relax during a light therapy session.
  3. Show yourself compassion. Schedule self-care activities. Treat yourself to a pedicure or facial. If that's not in the budget set up a home spa in your bathroom. Add essential oils to Epsom salts and relax in a hot bath with your favorite music. Gift something special to your inner child {read more about how to engage with your inner child here}. Let go of a perfectionist mindset and curb your inner critic. 
  4. Physical exercise for at least 20 minutes a day can distract you from negative thoughts and may lower the stress hormone, Cortisone.  The endorphins our body releases during physical activity can lessen the holiday blues. It can also contribute to a better night's sleep.
  5. Help transform negative emotions by incorporating helpful practices such as spending time with supportive people in your life. Volunteering to help with community or church programs can provide a sense of purpose and social connections. Reflecting on God's Word and the birth of our Savior can instill hope and a sense of peace. Creative pursuits such as hobbies you enjoy can engage your imagination and transform negative emotions. Give yourself the space you need to process experiences, your feelings and rest.

 

The holiday season can worsen the symptoms of melancholy or sadness for many people. When social media and television portray scenes of family gatherings and celebrations it can cause the rest of us to feel isolated and forgotten. Remind yourself that feelings are temporary and it’s ok to acknowledge that you are sad.

 

 

 

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 Sources:

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/seasonal-affective-disorder

2How stress affects your health. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-facts. Accessed 10/13/2022