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Beating the Holiday Blues

Categories: Neurosciences

“It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is a great song. But in reality, when December hits, many people start singing a very different tune.

During the holidays, we all can indulge in too many unhealthy practices – from skipping exercise to overeating sweets to missing sleep.

Think of a toddler: When little ones don't get enough sleep, eat nothing but candy and are taken out of their routines, they get cranky.

The same holds true for us. If you truly want to make this a joyous time of year, you'll need to work to stick with your sleep schedule, healthy diet and exercise regimen as much as possible.
It is also important to bolster your support system. If you feel alone, reach out to someone – whether it's a friend or a therapist.

Of course, an onslaught of company might add to your stress. Family gatherings can lead to tense situations.

If you sense an argument brewing, consider avoiding a blowout by saying, “Why don't we talk about this another time?” Or go to a different conversation in a different room or take a walk around the block.

It's not that I think families should avoid their grievances – in fact, family counseling can be an excellent resource to help restore harmony in the home. But the holiday dinner table is rarely an effective time or place for that.

And about that dinner table: Go easy on the eggnog. Alcohol is a powerful depressant. Even a moderate amount can significantly contribute to depression. Alcohol can also affect the quality of a person's sleep, leading to fatigue and rebound anxiety the next day.

And it should go without saying that drunken tirades rarely make for happy holiday gatherings.
If you are traveling during the holidays, try to schedule some extra time before and after your trip to decompress and get acclimated to a new routine. Getting off a plane on Christmas Eve and going straight to a Christmas party can lead to anxiety. I usually caution patients to arrive a day early, unpack and get a good night's sleep.

Most importantly, if you are feeling anxious or depressed, check in with your primary care physician. People don't always associate primary care doctors with mental health, but studies have shown that good physical health and good mental health are intertwined.

Your primary care doctor might refer you to a therapist or psychiatrist, but he or she should be the one coordinating all of the interactions. She is the captain of the ship. She can do a health assessment and take an inventory on where you stand in all medical areas of your life.

So while the holidays might not be the most wonderful time of the year, with the right support and medical care, at the very least, they won't be the worst.
– Dr. Valeh Karimkhani is chief of psychiatry liaison services at Hoag Hospital.