How to avoid depression during the holidays
by Joanne Williams
A half-sunny Sunday morning along the Mill Valley marsh path: A young woman leaned her bicycle against a tree, stepped up on a nearby bench and let out a loud scream of laughter, waving her arms in the air. Chasing the winter doldrums?
“Exercising in the fresh air is one of the best ways to chase away the holiday blues and all the guilt and ‘shoulds’ that pop up so much at this time of the year,” said Nancy Rhine, a marriage and family therapist and gerontologist.
“It’s easy to feel manipulated and overwhelmed during the holidays, when you’re pummeled by advertising and expectations that everyone else belongs to an idealized Norman Rockwell family,” said Rhine, who advises people to pause and get perspective on what’s really important to them during these sometimes superficially cheerful days and nights.
“There have always been human fears in this darkest time of the year,” Rhine said. “In ancient times people held spiritual celebrations, lit bonfires on hilltops, and danced to alter their mood and to remind them that the sun would return. Nowadays there is the most focus on the mundane, with a tendency to slip into overspending and overdrinking, and then depression.”
It’s no wonder we develop myths like Santa Claus. Some decorate a tree with twinkly lights, and others celebrate Hanukkah, also a festival of lights. When I asked around to find out solutions to the depression many experience at this time of year, I heard many ideas.
“I used to get depressed every December first,” said Mary C., a grandmother of nine. “There were so many expectations and no resources. Today I don’t shop,” she said. “I don’t believe in it.”
“I go to San Francisco to the theater, spend the night in the city and have breakfast with a friend,” a single man said. “And I stay away from parties where people drink too much.”
“I don’t read the news,” said another. “I watch sitcoms.”
“I put on lively music and go to funny movies,” Rhine says of herself. “Do what makes you feel good. Listen to upbeat music, watch comedies or other favorite movies, nurture yourself. Volunteer—helping others helps you as well as others. Give a gift of time. Teenagers who drive could offer to take seniors on a drive to see Christmas lights, or just visit them to bring cheer.”
“Also, remember that asking for and accepting help, if you need it, makes the giver feel good too—it’s a two-way street.” Exercise is a terrific way to chase the blues, “especially outdoors, in nature, and in sunshine if we have any,” Rhine has found. “I never understood bird-watching, but as I’ve gotten older, now I love it—science has shown that that activity lowers blood pressure and it just cheers you up!”
And if you get sick, which seems to happen when you need your energy most, rest and “let go” of demands—shift and adjust. There’s no shame in taking time for yourself—having to just “be” for a while and not “do” doesn’t negate your value as a human being.
“Meditation or prayer can help, too—it can give people a sense of purpose,” Rhine advises. “Talk to a pastor, a rabbi, a priest or a friend. One of the things we often learn as we grow older, after we’ve crashed and burned for over-doing for a few decades, is learning the value of pacing ourselves. And, listen to your ‘loving inner mother;’ sometimes the best answers come from within.”
Ask Joanne how she overcomes the holiday blues at [email protected].
RESOURCES AND VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES
Whistlestop930 Tamalpais Ave., San Rafael.
Marin Community Food Bank75 Digital Dr., Novato.
Salvation Army Services Center351 Mission Ave., San Rafael.
Ritter Center16 Ritter St., San Rafael.
Homeward Bound of Marin830 B St., San Rafael.
St. Vincent de Paul820 B St., San Rafael.