Tips on Handling the Holiday Blues

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As the holiday juggernaut barrels along, it's not unusual to start feeling stressed or even depressed on the days that are supposed to be the happiest of the year. Such feelings are nothing to be ashamed of, according to health professionals.

"People often kick themselves, thinking, 'Only a loser could be sad on holidays,' but actually many, many people feel sad on holidays -- even before we had (COVID-19) to contend with," said Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University.

COVID-19 has made normal holiday stressors even harder to deal with, and people shouldn't be too hard on themselves, the professor said.

"This is a rough time, and this has been a rough year," Humphreys said.

While the pandemic has made it more difficult to use some of the coping mechanisms Humphreys usually recommends, there are still effective ways to handle the holiday blues, he said.

Connecting with the people one loves can be more difficult, but a phone call or a Zoom meeting can make a big difference, the professor said.

One silver lining: "Usually I tell people not to overschedule, but that's not as much necessary now because Covid has cut down on the number of gatherings," Humphreys said.

Along those lines, Kaiser Permanente advises people not to let travel, holiday parties and family gatherings upset their schedules. Instead, it's important to get regular sleep and exercise and limit alcohol, according to Kaiser's "Quick Tips: Reducing Holiday Stress" website.

Another good strategy is to seek out community or religious events, according to the Mayo Clinic. Online support groups or virtual events can offer support and companionship.

Volunteering or doing something to help others is also a good way to lift spirits and broaden friendships, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Holidays can sometimes trigger depression, according to Kaiser, and no one should feel embarrassed about asking for help.

"Talk with your doctor about counseling and medication for depression," the Kaiser website suggests.

Perhaps one of the most important tips is not to beat yourself up for feeling down, Humphreys said.

"It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you just because you are not feeling too full of holiday cheer," he said.

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