December 9, 2011 at 11:33 am EST | by Kevin M. Norris
Blue Christmas?

I fancy myself an authority on feeling blue around the holidays.

This time of year conjures up mixed and complex emotions for me. And feeling blue just seems like something I am obliged to. While not a very uplifting topic, I decided to put a positive spin on the time of year I struggle with most as I’m sure I’m not alone. Let’s all get happy together.

Days are longer and seasonal affective disorder seems to be the cause du jour. Many of us, myself included, are light sensitive and are easily affected by its absence. Couple this with one of the most stressful times of the year and you inevitably can have a recipe for feeling down or stressed.

Does it have to be this way? Can you snap yourself out of it and simply decide to rise to the occasion and have yourself a merry time? For me, it’s not a matter of snapping out of it as I live with bipolar disease and those who suffer from similar diseases often have pronounced difficulties during this time of year. There’s no magic bullet to allay these feelings.

I’m not a medical doctor nor claim to be, so as always, I encourage anyone feeling depressed or anxious or dramatically out of sorts to seek sound medical advice and talk about what you’re feeling.

And while for me there’s no substitute for the medications I take for my bipolar disease or for the talk therapy I engage in once a week, there are some additional things I can do that can add to my overall state of being. I can make a difference in my own happiness.

I came up with a list of what may seem like simple tasks, but together have a positive and uplifting effect on my psyche and generally give me a better sense of well being. I would love to hear from readers as to what little tricks you use to keep yourself in good holiday cheer and help alleviate anxiety and stress during the holidays.

Act as if you are happy. Feeling generally follows action so doing things you do when you are at peace can sometimes produce positive effects. Pretending to be happy can sometimes cause happiness to “rub off” on you.

Make your bed and do the dishes. Don’t let things pile up until they become daunting. Your physical environment affects your mental state of mind.

Surround yourself with upbeat and positive people ad nauseum — they are sure to rub off on you. There are people who can be disgustingly chipper around the holidays and they can balance out our misery. Sitting on Santa’s lap may be just what the doctor ordered.

Don’t drink excessively — keep alcohol in moderation. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and will interrupt sleep patterns. And it may make you do something foolish at the office holiday party.

Eat healthy. Overdoing fatty foods and innocuous sweets can lead to feelings of guilt and pack on the “holiday five.” Have a healthy snack before the next party you go to, so you don’t overindulge.

Get to the gym. Now is not the time to let your exercise program go by the wayside. We know exercise equals stress release and those endorphins work.

Don’t over schedule. Three parties in one night is enough to stress anyone out. Decide which party is most important to you and spend the most time there.

Avoid overspending. This may not stress you out this month, but next month’s bill will.

Pamper yourself. Take time to take those hot baths, get a massage or take your spouse to a nice restaurant. While holidays are indeed a time for giving, it’s just as important to give to yourself.

Ask for help. You don’t have to go it alone. Others likely share your struggles. Talk to your friends, spouse, clergy, etc. and express that this is often a difficult time of year. Talking about your emotions may make you feel better. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room.

Sleep well. Get as much sleep as you can or at least maintain your current sleep schedule.

And when in doubt, fake it until you make it. I don’t want to sound trite, but often your state of mind or attitude can affect your mood. If I decide I’m going to have a miserable month of December, I will. On the contrary and not to oversimplify, if I decide to do what I can to enjoy the holidays, I may actually have a good time.

Now is not the time to re-invent the wheel, but a time to stay close to routine and not make dramatic shifts in your schedule and to surround yourself with positive upbeat people. If you’re accustomed to being the holiday Scrooge, you can make this year different.

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder is caused by the lack of light. The holidays don’t cause SAD, they just give it an excuse. When my grandmother moved from Pennsylvania to Florida, it cured her SAD. If you can’t move, go to a tanning salon in late fall like my neighbor does. That is enough to eliminate it for him. (You don’t have to see the light, you have to have it on your skin.) Or work on your computer in a bathing suit for a couple hours a day in a small room with very bright halogen lights. Amazing how that improves your mood in the wintertime. Another thing you can do is buy yourself a present in early December, wrap it up, and don’t open it until the end of the year. This is especially effective if you’re like me and you do all of the giving and none of the receiving. My rule is that it can’t be expensive, but it must be something I want but don’t absolutely need. During the time that it sits there, tantalizing me in its wrapping paper, it actually eliminates impulse spending. (That was a side benefit I wasn’t expecting.) When I open the gift, it is so pathetic and so hilarious at the same time that it completely prevents me from feeling sorry for myself. This is how I solve both problems: sadness and feeling left out.

  • Kevin, you have put together a terrific recipe for working your way out of depression, well done. I feel I must comment on Ken’s comment. I have attempted suicide on the day after Christmas on a number of occasions. The significant point here is that I live in New Zealand. Here December is in our summer.

  • Ray Tyler: SAD occurs twice a year, about May and December (approximately). Spring SAD is not in the public’s mind, because there are no major holidays going on, but statistically it is worse than fall SAD and has a higher suicide rate. While we were having fall SAD in the northern hemisphere, you were having spring SAD in the southern hemisphere, because December is a late spring month for you. Since it was spring SAD, it was really intense.

    On sleep. If you are truly depressed, sleeping too much is not only a symptom, it is makes it worse. Staying up all night (say, at a party) can create the illusion that you’ve got it beat, until you crash. Set a regular bedtime and keep it, and get what is for you the normal amount of sleep every night.

    For an article like this, it would probably have been a good idea to interview a psychiatrist, who is the best expert you can get on stuff like this. As we see from Ray, these are serious health problems.

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