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How To Fight Holiday Stress, Depression Or The Winter Blues

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It's that time of the year again when joy abounds; when the streets are filled with people going to and from their holiday errands and get-togethers.

But all that pressure, unrealistic expectations, loneliness, financial problems and even excessive social commitments can leave any individual drowning in stress and depression. Whether it's simple holiday stress or a full-blown holiday-related mood disorder, there are many ways that can get you in a more positive mood for the holidays.

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

People who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) experience the symptoms primarily during the winter months, but these subside when spring and summer come. It is a mood disorder characterized by symptoms such as depression, mood swings, anxiety, sleep problems, lethargy, overeating, and sexual and social problems. Three out of four sufferers of the disorder are women, and those between the ages of 18 and 30 are more vulnerable to SAD.

How To Fight SAD Or Even Just The 'Winter Blues'

The symptoms of SAD are linked to the lack of sunlight and a heightened level of melatonin, which is why phototherapy or exposure to sunlight is effective for 85 percent of sufferers. Antidepressants are, however, given in more severe cases. There are also other measures that can fight the winter blues.

1. Acknowledge the sadness. If there are deeper reasons for your holiday blues, such as a recent loss or serious arguments, it is better to let yourself actually feel the sadness and go through the stages of grief rather than forcing yourself to be cheerful. It's OK to cry and feel sad, if these help you cope with grief.

2. Don't give in to the pressure. Set realistic expectations for the holidays. Trying so hard to make the holidays "perfect" can trigger a whole lot of stress. Acceptance of changes in the family or social group will lead to new experiences and even open your mind to new traditions. Besides, a "perfect" holiday is subjective. What's perfect for others may not be what's perfect for you.

3. Plan ahead and keep a specific budget. A lot of the stress during the holidays comes from time and financial issues. Planning ahead of time who to buy for, exactly what to buy, where to buy the items and when to do the shopping will help lessen the stress of last-minute shopping and keep you within your allotted budget.

4. Reach out. If you're feeling lonely but your family or friends are far away, going to social events or charities can help to lift up your spirits. Studies have shown that volunteer work can boost many aspects of your personal well-being. It helps you and many others as well, and can even broaden your social circle.

5. Don't be afraid to say "no" and take time for yourself. Having too much commitments can send anyone spiraling into dejection. If you really feel the overtime work or another social event cannot fit into your already crammed schedule, don't be afraid to say no and take a little time for yourself. It will not just prevent the addition of more stress, but it could also give you time to restore a little peace.

6. Set aside your differences. Everyone's family is different and expecting your loved ones to be perfect is just unrealistic. No matter how different you are — whether politically, socially or even personally — the holidays are a time to be together. It would be more blissful without pushing each other's buttons.

7. Seek help. If the depression is too much and you simply cannot take it anymore, seek help. You are not alone. There are professionals who can help you, so don't ever feel like no one will understand. There will always be someone who can help.

If you or someone you know could be suffering from SAD and could be suicidal, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always just a call away.

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