Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

How you can avoid the holiday blues

A peaceful and relaxed season is a great gift for yourself

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The holiday season is upon us, and some people can't get enough of all the decorations, special treats and festive events.

Yet there are a significant number of us who struggle with the holiday season and all it entails. Try as we might, there just aren't enough glittering bows and twinkling lights to take away the sadness or stress we feel. Sometimes the holidays can emphasize the losses in our lives or leave us feeling overwhelmed from taking on too many seasonal tasks and commitments.

No matter what your personal beliefs or feelings are about the holidays, it is helpful to understand what is behind the holiday blues so you can make the most of the season, for yourself and the people in your life.

The holidays are special in the sense they are a break from the routine. Time off work, spending time with family, celebrations, big meals and gift-giving might all be part of the festivities. While we might welcome a break in the routine, sometimes it is precisely this change in routines that can get us off on the wrong track.

Overspending, changes in sleep patterns, eating and drinking more than usual, or even spending more time with our family can turn a smiling Santa into a Scrooge. Be aware of these changes. Try not to overdo it and if you do, regroup and take care of yourself so you can be ready to enjoy the rest of the holidays without going overboard.

Unrealistic expectations can also pose a problem during the holiday season.

Some of us keep hoping for that Norman Rockwell moment, only to find Uncle Bob still drinks too much and the dog still throws up when someone feeds him turkey. If your sister-in-law has always been critical, it's not likely she will be any different this year. Rather than dwelling on the negative, focus on the positive. You can still have a great time without everything being perfect. Capture the joy in those little moments that happen and keep a sense of humour.

While the holidays can heighten our sense of joy and gratitude, they can also intensify feelings of loss or sadness. Perhaps this is the first holiday without a loved one, whether through death or family breakup.

Or maybe you are unable to be with loved ones due to distance, illness or finances. Acknowledging these feelings can go a long way toward coping with them and making the best of a tough situation.

For those who have suffered a loss through death, grieving takes time and involves many ups and downs as you come to the realization life will not be the same again. It will be different. Using that knowledge can help you to cope by doing things a bit differently this year. Families can honour their loved one by saying a prayer, sharing stories or looking at photographs. They can also change up traditions and do something different. Carrying on some of the old traditions and starting new ones will help you to see you can honour the life you had with your loved one but also have a future with hope as you move forward.

When we are feeling alone or empty inside, reaching out to others can help fill the void. Volunteering takes our mind off of our troubles and is a great way to give back to the community. Could you deliver hampers, sing carols for seniors, wrap packages, bake cookies, walk someone's dog or shovel someone's sidewalk?

Even though your schedule might be busy, it is important to stay active by making time to get outside for some fresh air and physical activity. A simple walk around the block might do wonders to refresh and de-stress. Take five minutes to just sit and breathe without interruptions, or if you prefer, listen to soothing music. The idea is to give yourself a chance to be calm and gain a sense of peace. Whatever you do over the holiday season, finding a peaceful moment will be a great gift -- a great gift to give yourself.


Laurie McPherson is a mental-health promotion co-ordinator with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2013 A27

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