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For many, December is the season for the Christmas Blues – the time of year that becomes the most dreaded instead of the most joyous despite how many songs have the word “merry” in them. That feeling of dread only grows if you’re broke, if you are missing a loved one, if you find yourself suddenly single… If one more person says “merry” to you, you’ll shove that merry up their….mistletoe.

I can’t promise you guaranteed happiness over the holidays. I won’t insult you by making light of your situation by telling you to fake it till you make it. The holidays can be the hardest time of year, mostly because everyone expects you to be happy – or at least pretend to be happy so everyone around you can be comfortable. Let me be the one to give you permission to cross anyone’s name off your gift-giving list if they try to pressure you into feigned happiness.

And then let me give you a few tips on how to get out of your slump on your own terms:

1. Give to others who can’t pay you back. The holiday season is supposed to be about giving and goodwill towards others. Some still abide by this. But for the most part, I think many of this has been lost. It doesn’t even have to be big. Buy a box of hand-warmers and pass them out to the homeless. Go a step further and give them a blanket too. Donate your time at a soup kitchen. Take a few hearts off the Secret Santa tree. Go to the Volunteer Center and see where they can use your help. If you personally know of a family who is struggling, lighten their burden with a bag of groceries, help with cleaning, or offer them free babysitting. Small things add up to big things, and smiles are contagious. Trust me, the love you give results in a warmed heart, and soon it becomes easy to forget who’s getting the better deal out of your generosity.

2. Refuse to overspend. Set a realistic budget, and then stick to it. Vow to keep the credit cards sheathed, and just use the cash you have. Don’t have much? Get creative. Check out Pinterest for a few ultra cute ideas. Give the gift of service instead of a wrapped gift. Bake your present. Write a poem and frame it. Write a nice letter. But don’t give so much in December that you’re hurting in January. No one wants that for you.

3. Exercise! I know, I know. It’s cold outside. The mornings and nights are too dark. That holiday pie is weighing you down. There’s too much to do. And did I mention it’s cold outside? Yes. Whine about all your excuses. Get it all out there. And then put on your walking shoes and take a walk around the neighborhood. Grab a few friends and do it every day. Do whatever you can to get your body moving. It’s hard at first, really hard. But if you stick to it, soon it will become your favorite part of your day. And then, you’ll feel restless if you don’t exercise. And then….you may even feel (cringe) happy.

4. Get your Vitamin D. The days are shorter, meaning that it’s dark when you go into the office, and dark when you leave. But Vitamin D is the happy vitamin, and so important to keep you out of the doldrums. My first suggestion to you is to make sure you take at least 20 minutes in your day to sit outside in the sunshine (when it’s not raining or cloudy). But my second suggestion is to make sure you’re taking a Vitamin D supplement, especially in the winter months. The recommended dosage is 600 IU for anyone under 70 years old, and 800 IU for anyone 71 and older.

5. Keep organized. It’s easy to feel like there’s no time in your day if you’re not sure how you’re spending it. But if you create a schedule and try to keep to it, you’ll be surprised at how much you can get done in a day. Same goes for how much money you’ll find when you stick to a budget, and how much sanity you’ll have left if you keep your house clean. Do your best this month to keep all areas of your life contained, and you may even develop a new habit for the new year.

6. Don’t over-budget your time. Be realistic, you can only do so much in one day. So don’t create some crazy schedule that will only make you feel like a failure when it collapses in your lap. Instead, put a star next to two or three things you have to get done today. Then, if you finish those and still have time, you can get a jump-start on a few things on tomorrow’s list as well.

7. Allow yourself time to be sad. Let’s face it, sadness happens – and that’s okay. It’s a necessary emotion that everyone must feel sometime or another. Own it. Spend a day in it. Truly feel it. Don’t mask it with electronics, or hide it behind a smile. You are sad. And the only way to get past being sad is to give yourself permission to be sad.

8. Ask for help. If you can’t get past the sadness, there is no shame in seeking out a professional’s assistance in lifting you out of that deep hole of depression. If that’s too scary for you, talk with a trusted friend and let them make that call for you. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to be so incredibly sad that everything tastes bland, every day is on repeat, life has no purpose, and the sunshine just can’t reach you. And I know that when it gets to the point, the hardest thing to do is ask for help. Be brave, and ask for it anyway. It’s the best gift you can give to yourself, as well as to those who love you.

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