Holiday Cheer is a great thing…when the stress, business, and family triggers are not there. When too many factors pile up, the “holiday blues” can set in. Here’s why and what you can do.
Holidays are an interesting time for many. In the “perfect world”, they can be a time for believing in magic and expressing gratitude for the year passed and the year to come. However, if most people are honest, this time of year also brings up a wide-array of emotions. It’s not unusual for one individual to feel awe, excitement, stress, happiness, sadness, exhilaration, and exhaustion within one 24-hour period!
I don’t want to glaze over that many struggle with real depression that is heightened and triggered by this time of year with snuggly posts only reflecting holiday cheer. The “holiday blues” aren’t hype. They are real. According to Psychology Today:
We’re supposed to look forward to the holidays and hope that they will be a time of happiness, friendliness, fellowship, and harmony. Yet often our anticipation and excitement turns into feelings of depression, commonly called holiday blues. Symptoms can include headaches, insomnia, uneasiness, anxiety, sadness, intestinal problems, and unnecessary conflict with family and friends. (1)
Stress, overeating, overindulging, fatigue, extra demands, travel, financial worries (1), genetics, environment, our perception of stressful events, and where we live can all be contributing factors to feeling low during the season of giving.
As I was contemplating and researching on all the different ways holiday preparations and gatherings can impact our psychology, I came across this review article on the various aspects of our working environment that can affect mood state. As I read on, I was hit by the fact that these considerations could all be translated to other environments as well, including our own or others homes during the season.
The authors caught my interest as they validated “mind-body” connections between psychology and physiology, noting how physical symptoms can occur with suboptimal environments. This makes one wonder, “Is it really just the pumpkin pie that gave you indigestion or eating at while little Alfie hit your forehead with a BB gun ?”
Factors That May Make Your Mood Lower During the Holidays (and Always)
Below, I discuss various considerations the above study mentioned that may impact mood based on environment: (2)
1. Chemicals (e.g. chemosensory factors, pollutants)- besides the fact that some chemicals have neurotoxic effects (3),(4), mixing there exposure with alcohol (think “Uncle Jim’s spiked Eggnog”) can cause an interaction that is not brain friendly. (3) Combine this “holiday nog” with mycotoxins dancing around in Uncle Jim’s moldy and damp basement, and your mood could definitely be impacted for the worse!
Simple tip: avoid alcohol and support your immune system with a drop of Thieves oil before heading over to Uncle Jim’s. Furthermore, essential oils have an affect on modulating environmental pollutants as well. So, you can always “Black Spruce It Up” with your diffuser at home this holiday season to decrease chemical exposures.
2. Physical Stressors (e.g. lighting, noise, temperature, outdoor views and activities)- lighting is one aspect you may not consider, but is especially important in the winter months. (5) Furthermore, it’s hard to get all those amazing, stress-relieving phytoncides from inhaling the smell of pine trees too long with bitter cold temperatures.
Simple tips: Here’s some light hack hints from a previous blog I wrote and a great article by Dr. Mercola. Also, the authors did note how odors can impact mindset at work, so essential oils or inhaling your favorite smell can assist here as well.
3. Biological Factors (e.g., chronobiological factors, allergens, infectious agents)- inflammatory agents and allergies can rob your brain and body of optimal neurological signaling. Furthermore, they can cause havoc in your belly bugs! (6) In fact, I just read an amazing article on how the bugs in our bellies effect our awake-sleep cycle here as well, and circadian rhythm impacts all aspects of health! Check out the Science Daily summary:
Even gut microbes have a routine. Like clockwork, they start their day in one part of the intestinal lining, move a few micrometers to the left, maybe the right, and then return to their original position. New research in mice now reveals that the regular timing of these small movements can influence a host animal’s circadian rhythms by exposing gut tissue to different microbes and their metabolites as the day goes by. Disruption of this dance can affect the host.
Simple tips: Our lifestyle choices (diet, exercise, stress, etc.) impact our gut microbiome to our biology and psychology during the holidays. I discussed here on this fact and how to eat for happier bugs to keep our moods elated. Now do you see how feeding our bellies and their inhabitants more sugar impacts mood?
I purpose that those who have less optimal belly bug populations may suffer more mood issues during this time of year. (7), (8) Therefore, besides not loading up on sugar and processed foods, get some movement, de-stress, and make sure you don’t forget to take your probiotics . (10), (11), (12)
4. Psychological (e.g. demand-control, effort-reward balance) – Studies support that emotional reactivity is modulated by our childhood experiences. Therefore, adverse events can impact adolescence and adulthood and affect our response and behavior in our work environment. (13) This reactivity can be “turned up” or “muted” by the chemical exposures, discussed above, and “parenting styles” (of the boss or family members).
Simple tips: See above and consider if you have adverse events in your background seeking out help to work through behavior patterns that may not serve you anymore.
5. Social (e.g. cohesiveness, support)- having social connections impacts longevity and physiological measurements, as well as well-being. (14)
Simple tips: It may be inevitable that you will be around certain people that aren’t kind to you this holiday. Therefore, spend plenty of time with those who are to build up your confidence and prevent your brain from believing the insults thrown your way across bites of gluten-free pie.
6. Organizational (e.g. leadership styles) (2) – how one perceives and experiences the present
“authority” can be clouded by past experiences from parenting styles as discussed above. Furthermore, cultural norms and gender may impact depression. (15)
Simple tips: Be aware of your triggers and what you can handle. If someone is triggering you, find ways to avoid them and take care of yourself.
In this blog, I discussed some more of the factors I consider when supporting someone’s mental health and overall wellness.
Simple tips: Some of these factors may cause “sticking” points that prevent someone from “getting out of the rut” and one may need the guidance of a trusted functional, naturopathic, or integrative doctor in finding and treating the root cause of their mood imbalances. Invest in your own feeling good this season if you need support!!
Other Holiday Cheer Mood Busters
- Setting unrealistic expectations
- Trying to do too much
- Comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides
- Slacking on self-care
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
The author also lists some others, that aren’t just seasonal: (15)
- Thyroid disease
- Facebook Overload
- TV shows ending (I’m serious)
- Where you live
- Too many choices
- Lack of fish in the diet (think of omega-3s as “food medicine”)
- Sibling relationships (see “Social” above)
- Birth control and medication induced nutrient depletions
Simple Tips: The good news for these is that the “cure” can be simple (though not necessarily easy). For example: seek out a good integrative doc for thyroid support, get help if your Facebook addicted (16), find a new TV program or see a counselor if the end of a program really does impact you that hard, cut down on choices and make a decision, eat fish, find connections with safe people, and supplement nutrient depletions.
Psychology Today also offers some helpful tips to tone down expectations that may prove to be disappointing and challenges the mind’s negative perceptions of the holidays. These include: volunteering if you are lonely, avoiding alcohol if you are already depressed (17), (18), prioritize, organize, take care of yourself, and let go of expectations and enjoy what is presented to you in the now.
Finally, the Mayo Clinic gives some additional and overlapping strategies you can reference as well.
In my Saratoga.com blog, I continue on this topic and provide some of my favorite reads so far on holiday support and keeping the “Christmas Spirit” for those who are wanting some more of it.
Speaking of reads……
Here’s the link to a good skim of the top headlines in health and integrative news for November 2016.
May you all have a reasonably happy holiday season!