Does December fill you with cheer and excitement for the upcoming year? Odds are, no – not at all. According to the American Psychological Association, half of all people experience sadness or irritability during the holiday season, while up to two-thirds of respondents acknowledge feeling stress and fatigue.
There can be many factors affecting our mood as the days become shorter, darker, colder, and seemingly more hectic; it’s no wonder the month of December can usher in feelings of loneliness and depression. For teens and young adults especially, it can be a time of bitter sweet nostalgia as you remember a time when life may have been less complicated, and the holidays were once actually magical. Maybe family relations are more strained at this juncture in your life or this time of year; maybe your future after the year ends is more uncertain. You could also be experiencing the simple sugar crash from too many icing glazed cookies and party sweets. What ever the reason for your sudden decrease in happiness, there are a few ways to make it through the holiday haze:
- Accept that you feel sad – and acknowledge that it will also pass. It may look like everyone is having a ball on Instagram, but pictures are superficial glimpses into reality. People are multifaceted, sensitive, and struggling with many issues in their lives – and rarely show their innermost feelings on social media. You are not alone when you feel lonely, and it’s ok to go through periods of sadness. Accept this as a normal, healthy response to feeling overwhelmed; write about your feelings or talk to a loved one, and know that these feelings are likely temporary and that you will get past the darker moments.
- Understand the sources of your stress and seek ways to minimize its effects. It can be hard to pin point why we feel so out of touch or stressed out. Little triggers can seemingly cause epic meltdowns, but rarely are those triggers the true source of the problem. Think about your sleep patterns, your diet, and the important relationships in your life at the moment. Is there an area in your life lacking? Even if you can’t solve these problems right away, simply locating where your troubles originate from can prevent some of your smaller stressors from derailing your mood.
- Focus on yourself. ‘Tis the season for sharing, but no one will want to be near you if you’re irritable (except your really close, equally as irritable bestie, perhaps.) Amid the flurry of final deadlines, shopping, and non-stop festive gatherings, take as many moments for yourself as you can. Take a walk in the woods, meditate, go see a movie alone. Drive around without a destination in mind and listen to your favorite music. Enjoy a bath every night. Be introspective and give yourself a chance to listen to thoughts and moods.
- Monitor your diet and get active. The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years are notorious for food and snacks being shoved in your face. It’s perfectly ok to treat yourself during the holiday season from time to time, but try to stick to a regular, healthy diet as much as possible in between actual holiday events. Setting limits on sugary drinks and sweets is a good way to curb your moodiness; sugar is a drug, and it’s easy to chemically alter your brain the more you indulge. Then be sure to ramp up your physical activity (dancing, skiing, snow shoeing, shoveling!) to counter the holiday binging.
- Talk to someone. Whether it’s asking your teacher for an extension on a deadline (This actually works. Try it. Teachers are mostly reasonable humans if you present a good reason first), or making an appointment to see the school counselor, or confiding in a close friend or parent- put it out there. Bottling in or masking your depression will only allow it to seep out somewhere else when you least expect it.
If you find that your “holiday sadness” still lingers late in to the winter, you may be experiencing a seasonal affective disorder or other form of depression – know that there is help to get through this. 20% of teens will experience a depressive episode before reaching adulthood. These feelings are common, and depression is treatable with access to the right resources. Reach out to a parent, physician or counselor, and together you can decide on the next steps to regain a balance in your mental health.