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How To Beat The Holiday Blues — According To A Mental Health Expert

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Sure this season is typically filled with festive celebrations that can include gift giving (and receiving) and time spent with loved ones. But despite that, it also tends to be a time of year where many find themselves a bit down due to a number of factors. And even if that's a pattern you find yourself in year after year, there are some things you can do to enjoy this time — instead of dreading it. So how do you beat the holiday blues? Mental health experts have a few tips to help you manage your expectations, savor the moment, and deal with the stressful situations that can so often arise.

As a licensed psychologist at Brentwood Counseling Associates, Dr. Stephanie Insko has observed the ways the holidays may impact you emotionally. Aside from the feelings excitement and gratitude they may bring about, there are also many that aren't so positive. For example, if you've lost a close friend or family member and this time of year makes their absence more noticeable. There are also those who don't have a close network to celebrate with at all.

Even if you are someone who has friends or family to make plans with for the holidays, that can present its own problems. You may find yourself dodging awkward questions from people who have a different lifestyle than you, or there might be some weird dynamics between your partner and friends.

Then of course there's all the pressure we put on holiday celebrations — finding the perfect gifts, being the ideal host, and so on. And even when you excel at all those things — what happens after it's all over? How can you stay positive and present without comparing your levels of happiness to that of your friends or even that of yourself during past holidays? It may not be second nature, but it can be done. To learn a few therapist-approved ways to deal with the blues that can come before, during, and after this often triggering season, read ahead.

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Before The Holidays

Even before the holiday dinner or get-togethers begin, you can start to reduce the likelihood of getting the "blues" by managing your expectations. "A stress-filled holiday will not be a joyful one," says Dr. Insko. "Know and honor your limits, and plan intentionally." And according to her, that may mean limiting your use of social media. Because it can be easy to compare your party/family dynamic/gifts/etc to others that you see in curated and highly edited photos — which may or may not even be authentic — it could benefit you to put down your phone and try to enjoy the moment, focusing on what it is instead of what it's not.

According to Dr. Insko, it may also help to try and stay flexible, especially when it comes to your holiday traditions — as plans can often change. "Holiday traditions can provide meaningful experiences year after year, but may not work every year," she explains. "Following a major life change or a loss, for example, respect the toll it took and find the most realistic way to do the holidays. Who knows, you might even discover a new tradition!"

During The Holidays

"The holidays bring us together with family members we might not see very often," Dr. Inkso explains. "Such gatherings can remind us of past hurts, or highlight current strain." In these moments, it may be impossible to control anyone else's behavior, but you can control your own. And that might be by disengaging or noticing if you're feeling triggered and taking time alone. Don't be afraid to excuse yourself for a walk around the block if it means getting centered or blowing off steam.

And if you've over-committed yourself, or know that so many back-to-back social events might leave you feeling depleted, Dr. Insko advises building in some self-care time. "Commit to maintaining healthy habits," she says. "Sleep, good nutrition, exercise, and quiet, alone time can keep you grounded in all the bustle."

After The Holidays

If you even up mostly feeling the blues after the holiday season, just know you're not alone. "A lot of us have big expectations for the holidays, and the days and weeks after can feel pretty anticlimactic," explains Dr. Insko. "Instead of trying to make those feelings go away, expect that they might arise as part of the natural cycle of life. And to find some balance afterward, reflect both on what made the holidays special and what you’re grateful for all the other days of your life."