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Banish Seasonal Depression – Anti-Stress for Happy Holidays

It’s that time of year again when we start to relax at work and yet we feel the pressure from all sides: the pressure to be happy. We are surrounded by the expectations of others to be optimistic and happy as we try to focus on work, home, and family, not to mention perhaps taking care of ourselves. Everywhere we look, television commercials, radio music, store d├ęcor, family and friends bombard us with messages of all that we must accomplish in a very short time by the end of December. Christmas music, loaded shelves, pushing others around as we maneuver around stores, tricky driving conditions, finding a parking space, early sales with a couple of kids out of school following them, the good and not so good aspects of preparing for Visiting family contribute to the frenzy. There is buying gifts, decorating the home and workplace, writing and sending letters or seasonal cards, overspending, and overindulging when urged to try things. special treats from Aunt Bee or the scapegoat. How are we going to do everything? How can we please everyone? We are exhausted just thinking about it. We are stressed, exhausted and we have barely started.

At the other end of the scale, the pressure to be happy can only accentuate your sense of loneliness. If you don’t feel any reason to celebrate, if in fact the last thing you want to do is join in the false expressions of having fun, you can sink deeper into sadness.

Wherever you are on this scale, you have a severe case of Seasonal Stress. Here are ten tips to help you get over stress and enjoy the holiday season:

1. Don’t expose yourself to unnecessary stress overload, such as running up debt, overeating, poor sleep due to worry, stress, especially the kind that will have lasting consequences.

2. Analyze. Do you have to do it all? Do you have to do it all? Should you do it at all? Ask yourself why you are receiving a gift or inviting someone over. What if you baked fewer cookies or bought something healthy like nuts or dried fruit? Are you trying to live up to someone else’s expectations or are you setting your own too high? What would happen if you gave less or did less?

3. Make lists so you know exactly what you’re doing and when. Start with tasks that can be done well before October, like shopping for gifts and cards, wrapping paper or ingredients, and boxes for your baking needs.

4. Do your detective work early. Find out what some of your friends’ favorite charities and interests might be. Perhaps you can make a contribution on their behalf. You’ll be helping others, making your friend feel good, and getting some of your taxes back.

5. While lying by the pool on your summer vacation, decide the maximum amount of money you will spend on gifts this year. If you can, estimate what you spent last year to use as a rough guide. Create a balance sheet and track your remaining balance to help you control overspending. If you have money left over at the end of this exercise, splurge: get some for yourself or give to your favorite charity.

6. Rest. The structure breaks down in your day. Take a deep breath, relax your jaw, open your fists.

7. Run your errands earlier or later in the day to avoid crowds or when you can get around without the kids.

8. Beware of marketing traps. Because something is on sale, must you have it?

9. Keep an eye on your credit cards, PIN numbers and those around you. Keep these personal numbers out of sight of people in line behind you. Be sure to retrieve all of your cards and IDs after you make a purchase. Even better don’t charge. Have a set amount of cash with you when you check out and pay cash instead. It’s a good lesson for kids who shop with you, too.

10. Instead of buying gifts, do something nice. Carolyn Schmatz of the University of Massachusetts Medical School (2008) found that helping others made people feel better than the people helped. Help out at a soup kitchen or hospital on Christmas Day so the staff can spend it at home. Start a new custom. Instead of an office party, we take our treats to the Salvation Army for Christmas.

If all the frenzy this season is getting you down, write down all the reasons why you’re feeling down. Then add all the reasons you have to be thankful. This second list will usually be longer. Do you have a roof over your head? Is your health good? Is there a friend somewhere you can make happy by calling them? Do you know someone who is worse off than you? Except in extraordinary circumstances, there are people with much greater reasons than the ones that make you feel bad.

Do something good. Invite others who may be alone to a game of cards or a meal to cook together or just pick up the phone and say hello. Go to your local humane society and help out for a day.

If someone calls or invites you or gives you something, allow yourself to accept the kindness unconditionally. This seems the most difficult for most of us. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a very liberating feeling. It allows you to feel grateful and happy.

Regardless of what you think of the holiday season, it’s about taking a break at the end of a year to pause, be thankful for the good things, share, and receive kindness and love. Never forget.

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