For those whose feelings of isolation have intensified ever since the holidays began, let us say right out the gate that you are seen and you are not required to feel as festive and cheery as everyone else. We’re all in the middle of exceptional challenges. Thus, the pressure of pretense is a burden we shouldn’t require ourselves to carry.
Having said that, the Christmas blues, or what experts call Seasonal Affective Disorder, have indeed kicked in for more people this year than any other due to the exacerbation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unprecedented levels of stress due to financial strains, loss of a loved one, disconnection from our support networks, or a pre-existing mental health issue all contribute to our amplified levels of loneliness and anxiety.
If you find yourself sleeping more or later than usual, having difficulty concentrating, losing interest in your hobbies, and feeling slow or sluggish, then you’re most likely suffering from SAD. So what do you do about it?
Breathing is one of the simplest things we can do to improve our state of mind. Just breathe. Breathe deeply, slowly, and mindfully.
In a figurative sense, breathing helps time move slower and our minds think clearer, making us feel less overwhelmed. In a scientific sense, breathing engages our vagus nerve which slows down our heart rate and relaxes our muscles resulting in “cardiac coherence,” or that feeling of “chill.”
Once we’re calm and centered, we can look at things without the self-deprecating lens of seasonal depression. That’s when we can figure out what we can do to uplift our mood.
Since we can’t force ourselves to have fun right there and then, we can instead identify our stressors. Work burnout? Unsupportive relationships? Unhealthy relatives? You can write them down to better help you map your thoughts and make a plan to minimize their impact. You may not be able to cut these elements right away, but you can improve how you react to them.
Speaking of plans, make it your daily agenda to go out first thing in the morning. You’re basically mimicking what practitioners call “light therapy.”
Since the longer nights and shorter days tend to mess with your body’s natural circadian rhythm, you can help it get back on track by stepping out to sunlight as soon as you get up (however late that may be). Gradually, this can help you re-calibrate your body clock to sleep for just enough hours and wake up at just the right time.
And if you can, walk the block (wearing your mask of course!). Exercise is exercise, and you’ll need every ounce of feel-good brain juices you can get.
This might be the most cliché tip, but hey, it’s Christmas! If you can’t (or won’t) go outside, then that’s fine – just adapt while staying inside. Binge all your to-watch series on Netflix, make a Spotify playlist, dance by yourself to the latest TikTok challenge, or even just change a light bulb. If a company is available, then have a conversation through Zoom, or play interactive games online. Really, anything that makes you move a muscle counts.
The point is to have fun at your own pace and to let all consequences of work, time, and productivity peel away.
We may be celebrating Christmas differently this year, just remember that the point is to gain peace. Every bit of effort goes a long way – towards beating the Christmas blues, and towards building better traditions for future holidays to come.