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Seven Tips to Fight Off Holiday Anxiety and Depression

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A woman sits in front of a Christmas tree, looking sad.

As bells jingle and halls are decked, mental health counselor Bharati Devkota says it’s important to remember that not everyone experiences holiday joy.

Devkota says many of her patients at the Johns Hopkins Integrative Medicine & Digestive Center, which is part of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, experience the holidays as a season of great anxiety or depression.

We all feel the season in our own ways, Devkota says. She works to help her patients “focus on the ‘now’ rather than the future. The ability to take the season one day, even one hour, at a time is a good first step toward enjoying the holidays, rather than dreading them.”

Here are Devkota’s tips for making spirits bright this time of year.

1. Illuminate.

With daylight at a minimum, the holiday season can feel dark. Make sure you have pleasant light in your surroundings, both at home and in your workspace. “Creating brightness in the space around you can help bring some joy to the season,” Devkota says.

2. Stay active.

Exercise. Run. Walk. If the weather’s bad, get active in your home. Mindful activity can help anchor you and fight off anxiety and depression. “While you exercise,” Devkota urges, “notice your surroundings and the sounds” that often are just background noise.

3. Deep breaths.

“Our bodies can be trained to relax,” says Devkota. “Spend five or 10 minutes each day doing deep breathing exercises.” Imagine inhaling calm and peace, she says. Then exhale stress, anxiety and other negative thoughts. “Practicing this as a ritual can tune our bodies to stay calm.”

4. Accept your feelings.

“It’s normal to experience a range of feelings this time of year,” says Devkota. Struggling against emotions, she says, usually makes them worse. Take stock of your mood and explore why it developed. “Accept the way you’re feeling and experience it fully. Don’t resist thoughts — let them come and go. If you’re sad, allow yourself to cry.”

5. Take care of your body.

Get good sleep. Avoid overindulgence as a way of coping or celebrating. Alcohol, overeating and not enough rest can induce anxiety and depression, Devkota says — you’ll likely feel worse the next day, both physically and mentally.

6. Prioritize.

You can’t be everywhere. “A little planning can take a lot of pressure off the holidays,” Devkota says.

7. Take a few moments to be grateful.

“Each morning and at bedtime, think of three things for which you’re grateful that day,” Devkota suggests. “And remember that staying in the ‘here and now’ is key to a happier holiday season.”

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