Preventing the Post Holiday Blues

“The stress and craziness of the holiday season is finally coming to an end. So why do I feel so down and depressed?”

Many people have some variation of the above thought at some point during the first part of the new year. If you have asked yourself this question, then you have already achieved the first step in preventing the “post holiday blues”. We must recognize and acknowledge our emotions before we can begin taking action steps to move through this hard time and feel better.

What are the symptoms of the blues? Changes in sleep patterns, such as the desire to sleep more or insomnia, can be a sign of mild depression. Mood swings, having the urge to cry for no apparent reason, and feeling sad or down are also common signs. The National Institute of Mental Health states that people can have headaches, increased alcohol consumption, and overeat as a result feeling depressed after the holiday season. Feelings of fatigue or increased anxiety are also common indicators of depression.

Children can suffer from post Christmas doldrums as well, though their symptoms may present themselves a bit differently. Kids may have decreased motivation, decreased focus on schoolwork, seem as though they are in a brain fog, or become more reclusive. Returning to school can be difficult because they are facing another 3 months without a break from homework and tests. Many children feel sad because they are not engaging in the fun activities they enjoyed over the Christmas break such as seeing family, or hanging out and relaxing with friends.

There are several ways to assist your children through this back-to-school time. It is helpful to create opportunities to see family after the holiday season, and allow meaningful hang out time with close friends when possible. Plan activities that your entire family can look forward to such as ice-skating, game night, or a trip to the movie theater. Even printing off holiday photos and creating an album can raise your little one’s spirits.

Here are several steps that can help to return you and yours to a better state of mind:

1.    Get rest!  The hustle and bustle of the holidays can lead to less sleep. Lack of sleep has been linked to irritability and depression, as well as weight gain and other health concerns. Give yourself a week of 8 hour nights of sleep and get back on a sleep schedule by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day. Incorporate down time to relax and regain energy.

2.    Feel it.  Allow yourself to acknowledge and experience your emotions and tell yourself that it is okay to feel down. Name the emotion, identify what your thoughts are regarding the emotion, and express your feelings in a productive way. This may be crying, talking to someone, journaling, or listening to music. Remember to give yourself permission to move out of the emotion.

3.    Get sunlight and exercise.  You may not have noticed how much you have been inside over the winter break, or the way the days have become shorter. Our bodies need sunlight in order to produce vitamin D3, which is needed to synthesize the brain chemicals that create feelings of well-being. If getting outside is difficult during these shortened days, then you may want to consider purchasing a sunlamp. Sunlamps are typically used for ten minutes a day and results are usually seen in four to five days.

Regular exercise (3 to 4 times per week for at least 30 minutes) has been linked to increased production of neurotransmitters, which in turn leads to increased mood and energy.

4.    Focus on others.  When we help someone in need or give of our time and energy to better other human beings we can’t help but experience feelings of joy. Sometimes we simply need to take our focus off of ourselves and by taking an active step in this process we stop dwelling on our negative state of mind. Volunteering for an organization you are passionate about, taking a sick friend dinner, or running an errand for a family that is going through a hard life circumstance are just a few ideas of how to focus on other people.

5.    Plan events and get excited about the future.  We often look forward to spending more time with family during the holidays, but why not plan an activity once a month to look forward to as well? You could organize a supper club with those closest to you, plan a girls or guys night out for the same time each month, or have a family movie night every couple of weeks. Planning fun activities with those we love not only gives us something to look forward to, but it helps us not fall into a pattern of isolation and reclusiveness.

6.    Focus on spirituality.  Research shows that when we are all consumed with ourselves and our day- to-day lives and have no spiritual grounding, this can lead to depression. Give yourself permission to explore big questions such as: What is my purpose? Why am I here? Why is there suffering? Is there a higher power? Of course, you may never find the absolute final answer, but allowing ourselves to ask these questions and explore what we believe can lead to joy and understanding.

If you are struggling with any of these questions, then seek wise counsel to help you navigate through this exploration. Pastors, friends, and Licensed Professional Counselors are all good people to include, if needed, in your spiritual journey.

I hope that the above steps will help to relieve any post holiday funk that you or your family members may be feeling. If you implement the steps above and still cannot seem to get any relief from feelings of depression, then you may need professional help. Licensed counselors and psychologists are trained to help people navigate hard times, and achieve relief from depression.

The Freedom of Authentic Living

There is SO much freedom in living authentically.  What does it mean to live authentically, you may ask?  Being real with yourself is hard, but necessary if you are going to live authentically.  We have to be honest with ourselves first; and then with others, as appropriate.  Living from the core of who you are requires spending some time with yourself to really KNOW who you are and what makes you tick.  These ten guidelines will help you begin your journey toward experiencing the FREEDOM that comes with living a more authentic life.

Know your purpose.   Do you sometimes feel like you are wandering rather aimlessly through life, wondering at times what your purpose is—hoping that you’ll be lucky enough to stumble upon happiness, health and prosperity?  Identify your life purpose or mission statement, and you’ll have your own unique compass that will lead you to your true north every time.   For example, “I believe I was created according to a Divine design, with a combination of strengths and quirks, to accomplish something for the greater good.”

Know your values.  
What do you value most?  Make a list of your top 5 values.  Some examples are security, freedom, family, spiritual development, or learning.  As you set your goals for the next phase of your life—check your goals against your values. If the goal doesn’t align with any of your top five values, you may want to reconsider or revise it.

Acknowledge your needs. 
 Unmet needs can keep you from living authentically.  Take care of yourself.  Choose not to cling to people, projects, or things that are holding you back or causing you to lose your balance.

Be aware of your self-talk.
  Are you blocking your potential?  Check out your first thoughts when you wake in the morning.  Are they supportive, encouraging or positive? Listen to the chatter that goes on in your mind.  Pay attention to the negative messages and turn them into positive statements.

Live your passions. 
 Honor those things that make your heart sing.  Whatever it is, do more of it.

Live from the inside out.  Tap into your inner awareness by regularly reflecting in silence.  Breathe deeply to quiet your distracted mind.  Meditate or pray. Try to manage your life from the inside out, focusing on “clean living” and nurturing the relationships that are closest to you first.

Honor your strengths. 
 What are your positive traits?  What special talents do you have?  List three—if you get stuck, ask those closest to you to help identify them.  Are you imaginative, witty, good with your hands?  Find ways to express your authentic self through your strengths.

Take time to play. 
 Give yourself time to recharge doing things you love to do or by just doing nothing.

Count your blessings.   Write down everything you are thankful for, keep your list in a journal or post it where you can see it for a little more inspiration.  Don’t edit the list!!  Include EVERYTHING you can think of, both big and small.

Prioritize relationships.  When you are true to who you are, living your purpose and giving of your talents to the world around you, you give back in service what you came to share with others—your spirit—the very core of who you are.

New Year Bandit

The fireworks pop. The confetti sparkles. The New Year is here and ready to take over. The Christmas decorations and holiday music took us by surprise when they appeared this year before Halloween. Watch out folks. Christmas has nothing on the New Year. Before the last ornament is back in the box and the final Christmas hymn is sung, the New Year comes in like a thief, grabbing us by the horns, flinging us back to the chaos and rush.

Don’t let the fact that January 1st has passed steal your calm, your chance to reflect, plan, and consider new changes, new goals for a great year to come. Turn off the technology, take a deep breath, and nuzzle in to a quiet spot. Write it, draw it, talk it out with a friend or call your counselor. Do whatever it takes but do not let the moment get swept away or placed on the to-do list for another day.

Where do I start?  Consider these five areas of your being:

  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Social

What do you value in each of these areas? Over the past year, were you able to balance and acknowledge your needs in each area or did you find yourself immersed in only one and ignoring the others? If you felt overworked, stretched thin, or that something was missing last year, you might have been putting too many eggs in one of these baskets, leaving yourself empty and unfulfilled in the others.

Consider this example as you reflect and develop goals for change in each area:

Spiritual: It is important to me that I share a Christian example with others. To do this, I would like to be a more loving person. My spiritual goal is to act in a more loving way. What will this look like? One example is that I will consciously choose to act in a more loving way by being aware of how I drive on the freeway. I will drive with more consideration for others and exemplify less rage and frustration. Another example of living out this goal to act in a loving way is by taking my family to serve at the homeless shelter and pick a person whom I can treat, anonymously, with a random act of kindness.

Dedicating the time to reflect on the important changes you would like to see in each of these areas of life, developing the action plan, and defining how you will know you are working towards that goal will help keep your feet on the ground and your base strong when the daily grind of another year tries to sabotage your goals.