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updated: 11/21/2012 10:47 AM

It's Not a "HO-HO-HO Holiday For Everyone! Overcoming the Holiday Blues

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Fonda Lewis, MS, LPC, NCC

Does the holiday season fill you with a sense of dread instead of joy?

Are you overwhelmed by the emotional, physical & financial demands of the holidays? While 'tis the season to be jolly for some, for many of us it's a season of stress, anxiety, and depression.

The reality is that the holidays can be the loneliest time of the year instead of the happiest. While all of the seasonal hype tells us that we need to be busy shopping, decorating, socializing, entertaining, making travel plans, and counting our blessings, many are experiencing the 'holiday blues'. We may even appear to be taking part in the festivities, all the while wishing we could pull the covers over our heads and go into hibernation. We would be happy to skip December, and come back in January, preferably well after the dreaded New Year's Eve! Does this sound familiar?

There are numerous reasons for these feelings. It may be due to the loss of a loved one, physical or emotional separation from family and friends, or a divorce/breakup leaving you feeling unconnected and alone. As we do too much, spend too much, and anticipate too much, we're left with exhaustion, financial strain, or simply end-of-year unmet goals and expectations. Let's not forget those "have-to" forced family traditions that leave us with a sense of dread and feeling 'stuck'. And then there is the inevitable over-eating and over drinking, the effects of which stay with us long after the holidays are over. When the holidays don't measure up to the unrealistic expectations of what is 'supposed to happen' or how we are 'supposed to feel', depression may set in. The images of love, warmth, joy, and social connection that are depicted in seasonal movies and cards, are rarely what we actually experience. Another contributing factor to the holiday blues may be Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), resulting from a deprivation of much needed sunlight that occurs as the winter days get shorter.

Before you can overcome the holiday blues, it's important to recognize the symptoms. These may include one or more of the following: headaches, inability to sleep or sleeping too much, changes in appetite causing weight loss or gain, agitation and anxiety, excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt, diminished ability to think clearly or concentrate, and decreased interest in activities that usually bring pleasure.

The first step is to acknowledge what you are feeling. Give yourself permission to feel this way, and know that it's OK to take time to cry or express your emotions. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.

Reach out to others for support. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious, or other social events. This is a great time to volunteer your time and help others. Giving of yourself will lift your spirits, and create connections.

Make a plan. Know what has triggered you in the past and plan ways to avoid those stressors. Make a budget, and stick to it. Start a project early, or abandon previous traditions and begin new ones that make sense in your life today.

Learn to say 'no'. If it doesn't feel comfortable or the thought of something overwhelms you - don't do it! The world won't come to an end if you don't, for instance, bake the holiday cookies this year. Life will go on no matter what it is. Continue to do those things that bring you joy - not stress.

Simplify and set priorities. By doing less, or finding shortcuts, you will free up your time and have more energy to enjoy the holidays.

Be realistic. Holidays don't have to be 'perfect', or like previous years. As families change and grow, so do traditions and rituals. Be open to creating new ones.

Set aside differences. Chances are family and friends are also feeling the effect of holiday stress and depression. Attempt to accept them as they are, and be understanding. There will be time for discussions, and airing differences later.

Don't abandon healthy habits. Continue with your exercise regiment, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep. Before going to holiday parties, have a nutritious snack so you won't be tempted to over indulge. Know your alcohol limits, and remember to drink plenty of water.

Remember to breath, and make time for yourself! This is probably the most important tip to overcoming the holiday blues. When your feeling anxious and overwhelmed, take time to quiet your mind, slow your breathing, and restore inner calm. Spend at least 15 minutes alone, without distractions. Close your eyes, take several deep breaths, and relax. Imagine yourself in a beautiful place, perhaps a scene of nature. Visualize yourself feeling peaceful, or succeeding at a cherished goal. Take a warm bath. Keep a gratitude journal. Listen to soothing music.

Despite your best efforts, you may find that symptoms of despair and hopelessness still persist. Seek professional help if you need it.

Join us for "It's Not a "HO-HO-HO Holiday For Everyone!" Seminar. Discover how to overcome the holiday blues, cope with the stress, and feel a sense of peacefulness. In this seminar you will:

* Learn how to recognize your holiday triggers before they lead to a melt down

* Learn how to avoid family conflicts, loneliness, financial strain, overeating, & over drinking

* Discover how you can minimize the stress & create a new holiday tradition that fits in your life!

Date: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Time: 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Location: Personal Growth Associates

919 Plum Grove Rd., Suite C

Schaumburg, IL

Pre-registration required. Fee: $25.00 - $5.00 discount if registered before Dec. 1st

To register: Contact Fonda Lewis, LPC, NCC at (847) 413-9700 x336