Get Smart about the holiday blues

by Cyle Talley

Festivus got you stress-tivused? Christmas crushing your vibe? Hanukkah haranguing ya? Let psychologist Emily Ragsdale, of EL Ragsdale Psychology, tell you a bit about why you’re feeling that way, and what you can do about it.

Winter and weather have finally arrived. How do they impact people?With the days being shorter, with there being less sunlight, and it being cold, people generally don’t have as much physical activity, or the desire to be outside, really. That can definitely have a negative impact on people and gives them a greater negative effectivity. Things get harder, emotions are more on the negative end of the spectrum. People are more sluggish and down in the dumps. I think it can be pretty individualized. It can be an increase in depression, or feeling sad. Not having the energy or interest in doing things is a part of it as well. The counterpart to that, but also super related, is anxiety. Feeling almost like keyed up or more anxious. Anxiety and depression are very closely tied and it can often be difficult to tease apart which one is which or if it’s both.

What are the “holiday blues”? Are they different than seasonal affective disorder?The stress that holidays can put on families financially, the sense of expectations that either aren’t being fulfilled or aren’t being fulfilled to the degree that we’d want. Seasonal affective disorder is more cyclical and happens every year, or every changing of the season. The holidays bring a lot with them, and it might be splitting really fine hairs, but seasonal affective disorder and the holiday blues are separate things.

Whoa, wait. SAD can happen at each turn of the season?I have actually encountered a couple of people for whom any change in the season or a change in weather can bring on different difficulties. They have to work to adjust to a new way of being, and so it’s not strictly winter, although that does seem to be the most common. Summer probably doesn’t impact most people in a negative way [laughs] but changing from summer into fall and having things start to die and change can bring on different emotions.

In the end, coping is different for everyone, but are there some baseline strategies?It seems like the most global one would be self-care. I don’t know if it’s a Western cultural thing or not, but it seems like we often have a hard time embracing the idea of self-care, of putting yourself and your needs first rather than taking care of someone else, which is what we’re raised to do. But really, we do need to take care of ourselves in order to be available to take care of anyone or anything else. Doing things as basic as making sure that you’re eating healthy and getting enough sleep. You ought to have some sort of physical activity each day. Also, the ability to say “No” can be huge. Not taking on a million responsibilities and committing yourself to 10 different things when what you really need to do is have some quiet time and maybe read a good book that has no other purpose besides that you enjoy it, or watch a movie when what you really need to be doing is clean the house. It’s important to take care of yourself, to feed your soul. It seems like the holidays can come with a lot of different struggles for different people. One of those is feeling really lonely, or being acutely aware of the fact that some relationships that you used to have aren’t there anymore due to death, loss, moving, any number of reasons. Intentionally reaching out, being with people that help to foster healthy relationships can be really important.

But it’s go time! How do we self-care in the midst of the crazy?!One of my mentors once told me, “When you’re in a hurry, slow down.” I try to incorporate that into my life by intentionally slowing down. Say you’re feeling rushed, but you’re standing in line at the grocery store in the 15 items or less checkout counter and the person in front of you has 50 items. Let it go! You’ll get through as quickly as possible and being upset or annoyed by it isn’t going to serve anyone, especially you, because you’ll likely be in a bad mood – and maybe for the rest of the day. Take a deep breath. Relax. It’ll all happen when it happens. You’ll get through. Intentionally slowing down, not getting upset when someone rushes past and bumps into you, or when you’ve committed to 10 parties and you’re rushing around like crazy – just slow down. It’ll be OK.

Cyle Talley is the master of the hurry-up-slow-down. He just Nama-stays the hell out of all of the stores until an hour before they close. If there’s something you’d like to GET SMART about, email him at: [email protected]

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