It’s December. ‘Tis the season to be jolly. But many of us, in fact, are anxious and depressed. Well, not to worry. You are not alone. This month tends to bring out even greater angst because not only do we have our everyday to-do’s, we have the added burden of having to bethe best designated chefs, entertainers, gift buyers, wrappers, card writers, stage managers and set designers of the season. So some of us become so distressed, unhappy and overwhelmed that we simply shut down, unable to process even one more request.
“Anxiety and depression are so common around the holidays, it’s almost come to be expected,” says Rich Presta, noted self-improvement expert and author of The Panic Puzzle and The Anxiety-Free Child Program. “Fortunately, though, there are some relatively simple things you can do to help yourself feel better so you can actually enjoy the season instead of dreading it.”
It would be wonderful if we all could simply push a happiness button, but that’s not reality. If a happy disposition doesn’t come easily to you, you must conscientiously practice the art, just like you would an instrument. And that takes a little work. According to Todd Patkin, author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In, “If you go to the gym, you’re not going to get in shape if you simply watch others work out. The fact is, happiness doesn’t just happen—it’s a choice that you make for yourself each and every day. You can’t magically stop bad things from occurring in your life, but you can take charge of your stress and negative feelings by figuring out a more positive way to react to them.”
On a personal note, my wonderful mother, Emily, felt that happiness and beauty went hand in hand. “Bitterness, hostility, anger and depression are the enemies of loveliness,” she would say, “while laughter, joy, contentment and peace are beauty’s best friends.” So in the joyful spirit of the season, here are 12 more suggestions to help make you—and your holiday—even more beautiful, brighter, and Better Than Before.
Let it be. “It’s easy to fall into the trap of perfectionism, and it will only cause you more stress and anxiety,” says Dr. Howard J. Rankin, clinical psychologist and director of the Rankin Center for Neuroscience and Integrative Health on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. “If you feel that perfectionism is causing you to be overly stressed, try to focus on the positives. Take a minute to think about all the things that you have accomplished instead of the tasks that remain undone.However,” he cautions, “if the symptoms of your anxiety and depression, like sweating, shakiness, intrusive thoughts and poor sleep (to name a few) compromise your quality of life or sense of well-being, then it may be time to see a professional. And that’s OK, too.”
Keep it simple. Charles Creekmore, a poet and author of the ebook, Back to Walden, feels thatHenry David Thoreau gave us history’s best description of depression and anxiety more than 150 years ago when he wrote in Walden that “the mass of [people] lead lives of quiet desperation.” Then, according to Creekmore, Thoreau laid out a simple plan for treating that quiet desperation that is even sounder than the tight little cabin he built on Walden Pond: Live simply and wisely; get your inspiration from nature; lead a mindful life; challenge the status quo; shun materialism and luxury; meditate and follow the genius of your own intuition or “Realometer,’” as he called it. “So the trick is, if you’re unhappy, depressed, or anxious, change the way you view and interpret life,” Creekmore says. “Monitor your inner dialogue to edit out all the unhealthy, unproductive, negative thinking and cultivate all that is healthy, life-giving, and fruitful.”
Eat and drink to be merry. Foods play an important role in regulating your mood, says Dr. Lu-Jean Feng, founder and medical director of The Lu-Jean Feng Clinic, an outpatient surgery and health and wellness center in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Folate-rich foods including legumes, walnuts, fruit and dark leafy vegetables; the selenium found in whole grains; and the omega-3 fatty acids in wild salmon and flaxseeds are “extremely beneficial for better moods,” she says. Depression is also associated with low vitamin B12 levels. Beef, fish, and dairy are best sources. Be sure, too, to get enough vitamin D, found in fortified foods, supplements and 15 minutes per day of sunlight without UV protection.
Walk in a winter wonderland. “One of the best things you can do to alleviate stress and anxiety while also elevating your mood is to exercise,” emphasizes Rankin. “Exercise encourages good oxygen flow to the brain, which promotes effective information processing.” A mere 20 to 30 minutes a day—even split into 10-minute segments–a few days a week, he says, will help eas anxiety and elevate your mood.
Let us spray. “Misting your face liberally before moisturizing helps rejuvenate your skin and brighten your mood,” advises Kaydel Shelton, the owner and founder of The Myrtle Leaf, an all-natural skincare company based in Billings, Montana. Choose formulas with 100 percent essential oils in either citrus or floral, which are said to boost mood. In addition, cucumber, pure rose, organic rose geranium and lavender, can be both uplifting and soothing to the skin.
Let it bee. “And honey, which has been used for centuries as an effective treatment for many ailments, should be found in every home,” says Carolyn Harrington, a certified holistic health practitionerand founder of the Maty’s line of all-natural products. Indeed, for depression and anxiety, its natural sugars are said to energize and stimulate the brain stabilizing moods and emotions. It also has the ability to calm frayed nerves. “Honey, taken in warm water, warm milk, or in a hot cup of tea, provides instant relief for depression,” Carolyn says. Add it to chamomile tea to boost its relaxing effect. Carolyn also suggests a mood-lifting snack of apple with cinnamon and honey and a glass of milk, and a breakfast of oatmeal or toast with buckwheat honey, a particularly powerful antioxidant, to set yourself up for a happy and productive day.
Family, united. Dorothy Atalia, author of Conversations with the Goddess:Encounter at Petra, Place of Power, suggests encouraging allfamily members to create a feast for the senses and the heart. “Each person can offer a small gift containing a pledge card with an activity that will unite the family in love and fun throughout the year,” she says. “For example, a child could offer to collect jokes for family occasions such as dinner get-togethers. Another child could volunteer to create skits in which everyone has a small part.”
Make your spirit bright. “Take a break from reality many times every day by going outside and absorbing the spiritual energy in nature,” suggests Creekmore. “Thoreau called it ‘generative energy.’ Think about the feeling you get by standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon or the beach at Cape Cod. You can get the same feeling anywhere by simply going outside.”
Deck the halls. “To enjoy the holiday season fullyand help keep your stress level down, engage in creative activities such as painting, creative writing, playing music, singing and dancing,” says Dr. Gary Kaplan, founder and medical director of The Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean, Virginia. “Using the creative part of our mind—not for problem-solving, but for fun activities—stimulates our brains in positive ways that help reduce stress. Moreover, being creative actually canhelprepairthe damage done to our brains by constant stress.”
Roast chestnuts on an open fire. “The quickest way to change a mood state or behavior is with smell,” says Dr Alan Hirsch, neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. That’s because, he says, the part of the brain that governs your sense of smell is actually part of the limbic system, or the emotional brain. Happy odors, according to Hirsch, induce nostalgia, for example, baby powder, flowers or potpourri—especially ones that contain the scent of pine, often a reminder of childhood and a simpler time spent outdoors. “The smell of roasted or baked goods is always a comforting reminder of home,” Hirsch says. “So make cookies or stick a pie in the oven.”
Do unto yourself. “When you catch yourself talking negatively, work to change it,” Presta says. And the best way to do this, he’s found, is to ask yourself what you would tell a good friend or relative who was talking to themselves the way you are. “Would you tell them to push even harder or take a break and relax? Would you let them talk about themselves harshly or encourage them by reminding them about all the wonderful qualities they have? All day long, you have a radio station inside your head that tells you all sorts of things. If you don’t like what’s being played, you can learn to change the channel.” At the end of the day, you will discover that learning to love yourself will also make you more pleasant to be around and that is the best reward for all.
Good will to all. Finally, learn to feel good about yourself for doing positive things for others. Help them realize that happiness is making the most out of every second of the day and that contentment comes from having an objective and ultimately realizing it. Most importantly, pass on the love that has been given to you. That is, above all, what the true spirit of the season is all about.