5 tips to beat holiday blues

Sunday, December 09, 2012
[PHOTO: Laura Betancourt/Flickr/CC BY 2.0] 
Chicago: The holidays are a busy time filled with shopping, parties, travel and family gatherings. But for some, the holidays can trigger stress and depression, or worsen existing mental health issues. Financial strain, renewed grief over the loss of a loved one, being away from family or spending time with difficult family members may all contribute.

Here are five important tips for managing stress and depression from Michael Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

"Holidays are times for celebration, but everyone still needs to take care of themselves," Fitzpatrick says. "Mental health doesn't take a holiday. Be alert to basic needs."

1. Take your medication.

If you take medication for anxiety or depression, or any mental health condition, be sure you have enough to last you through the holidays and bring a copy of your prescription with you if you're traveling. Keep medications in your carry-on bag, if possible, in case your luggage is lost or delayed.

2. Get plenty of rest and stick to your exercise routine.

There's much to get done in the run-up to the holidays. Parties and long to-do lists can make it hard to stick to your regular schedule, but getting enough sleep and exercise is especially important. A healthy lifestyle is crucial to maintaining mental health.

"Stick to the priorities that keep you well," says Fitzpatrick. "You will want to do things that are special for the holidays, but remember that they come second in priority. The world won't end if you can't do them."

3. Manage your expectations.

Images in the media and childhood memories can set a high bar for holiday celebrations. Know that it's OK if your holidays don't follow a Hollywood script. For example, if you don't have time to bake cookies, buy them or skip them altogether. If family gatherings aren't always picture-perfect, limit your visits and plan an early exit, Fitzpatrick advises. 

4. Set a budget.

This oft-cited bit of holiday advice can't be repeated enough. Financial stress is a main cause of holiday anxiety and depression. Set a holiday budget and stick to it. Pay for gifts in cash, if possible, to avoid anxiety about January credit-card bills.

5. Recognize when you need professional help, and know that it's OK to ask for help.

Persistent feelings of sadness, loneliness or anxiety, can be a symptom of something more serious than the holiday blues. Talk to your mental health provider.  If you don't have one, talk to your doctor, who can help identify what might be making you feel that way and refer you to a mental health professional, if necessary.

"Mental illness is common, treatable and manageable," Fitzpatrick says. "Don't hesitate to reach out for help during the holiday season, or at any other time."
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