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How to Deal With Stress and Depression During the Holidays

When thinking about the holiday season it is easy to ponder Christmas shopping, time with family, decorating the tree and house, traveling, baking, and caroling.

While some people think of these things with fondness, others think of them as adding stress to their lives.

There seems to be so much to do in such a short time to get ready for the season, on top of continuing a regular job and maintaining a normal household.

This year can be better, with less stress and with more quality, enjoyable time.

There are actions you can make a priority during any holiday season that will enhance your mental health and improve your overall satisfaction with the season. Giving to the needy, volunteering your time, adopting a pet, learning a new task, and finding ways to escape a stressful situation can all benefit your mental health.

They fight depression, reduce anxiety and give you a true sense of happiness.

Giving Will Make You Feel Good

Giving feels good.

It is hard to explain the joy you can get by blessing another person, especially if it is unexpected giving.

Generosity, without strings, is satisfying. Without strings means that you are not looking for credit and you don’t need to be acknowledged for the gift. You are doing it just for the benefit of helping someone else. That in itself brings you joy.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, giving makes the brain feel a positive high. In addition, giving actually benefits a person’s overall mental health because it has been found to lower blood pressure, increase self-esteem, lessen depression and makes a person feel happy.

Giving activates the feel good chemicals in our brains, serotonin and dopamine, that trigger your brain to relax and enjoy.

The Mental Health Channel put together a great video on a giving club.

The members explain that giving is receiving, meaning the actual action of giving becomes a reward in itself.

They tell viewers that sometimes the best gifts to give are not material items at all. Resources to Recover offers many benefits of giving.

They claim it gives people a warm glow affect that can actually be measured in the brain through imaging. Certain parts of the brain show more activity when a person has that feeling of happiness and reward.

Giving has also been linked to mental health and improves social connections between people.

They also say giving is a behavior that others tend to copy so the chain of happiness that giving can create is extended. Picture the Salvation Army bell ringers at Wal-Mart.

When one person walking by gives money the person following them is more likely to give also.  This may be because they don’t want to be embarrassed and appear greedy if they don’t give. It may also be because they liked what they saw and wanted to copy the act.

Either way, people influence one another when it comes to giving.

There are even more benefits of giving: it activates the reward center in the brain; improves morale of others; increases community standing; and induces civic engagement. World of Psychology reported on a study that measured the effects of volunteering and the giving of time.

Of the volunteers studied, 68 percent reported volunteering made them feel physically healthier, 89 percent said volunteering improved their sense of well-being, and 73 percent said it reduced their stress levels.

Giving delivers a great reward.

Instead of spending a lot of money on material items that only bring you joy for the limited time of the holiday season, try giving gifts instead and increase your inner happiness, which can last for a very long time.

Volunteer in Your Community

Volunteering has surprising benefits, according to Harvard Health.

They claim volunteering can counteract stress, anger and depression. It can also give you a sense of purpose and can connect you to new people, allowing you to make new friends.

The good news is that there are countless ways to volunteer your time.

Some people like to clean up trash along the highways, some make visits to the elderly in a nursing home and some volunteer at children’s hospitals. There are hundreds of examples of ways to volunteer and each one provides a sense of accomplishment to people of all ages.

In fact, it is a good idea to help children learn how to volunteer from a very young age. While they may not experience the same type of reward as older volunteers, it instills in them a sense of appreciation for their life and for the act of volunteering.

Time magazine reports that people who are 40 years or older benefit the most from volunteering due to the fact that giving back can reduce blood pressure.

Similar research, reported in Science Daily, people over the age of 40 greatly benefit from volunteer work.

However, they were not sure how it affected people under the age of 40. The main reason is that older people begin to feel more isolated as they age and volunteering reconnects them with others, giving them a sense of purpose and connectedness.

United Health Group released statistics showing that employers benefit from employees who volunteer, claiming volunteers are more productive at work and have lower healthcare costs. In addition, employees who volunteer exhibit better teamwork skills, better time management skills, better relationships among staff, and overall happiness of staff.

Volunteering can decrease loneliness and isolation, giving you confidence, making you feel valued, giving you a sense of achievement and helping you feel like you belong to a community.

Even when you meet complete strangers at a volunteering opportunity, you begin to feel like you have a connection with them because you have accomplished something great together. You feel connected to the other volunteers for a long time because your struggle for the greater good was done as a team.

Feeling connected to someone or something is important in combating loneliness that can lead to depression or anxiety.

Volunteering at a pet shelter or even adopting a pet is a great way to feel connected during the holiday season and any time.

Adopt a Pet

Many pets are living in shelters and rescue agencies waiting to be adopted.

They will spend their holiday seasons alone unless people step up and take one of them home. Because the holiday season can lead to isolation, loneliness and in some, despair, adopting a pet is an excellent gift for the pet and the person suffering from mental health issues.

Pets have been proven to offer people a number of positive mental health boosts.

There are at least six types of pets used for therapy that have shown to improve the mental health of their people parents, adopted or not.

These include dogs, cats, horses, reptiles, birds and small animals such as rabbits or guinea pigs.

Psychology Today published an article on pet ownership and mental health benefits. The benefits are varied and include the pet owners having higher self-esteem than non-pet owners.

A pet lowers depression and can even act as a therapeutic tool for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Caring for dogs can help you fight anxiety, stress and depression.

Caring for dogs can also lower cholesterol levels, increase serotonin and dopamine chemicals in the brain, and make you laugh and experience joy.

Other ways pets can improve a person’s mental health include offering comfort, humor, hope, curiosity, and the energy to become more adventurous.

Maybe the most important reason for adopting a pet, and one that offers a great feeling of satisfaction, is that you are offering a brighter future to an animal that didn’t have much a life at all. Saving the life of a pet is an even greater reward.

While pets offer unconditional love and can boost emotional and psychological affects, helping a pet in need can give you that extra sense of feel good due to the fact that you are saving a pet from living in a kennel the rest of its life, or worse, being euthanized.

If you aren’t quite ready to commit to adopting a pet, maybe you can sign up for a class that teaches you more about pets or pet adoption.

Learning something new is a great way to fight holiday stress.

Learn Something New

Going to parties during the holiday season can be tiresome and create anxiety over what you will say to the new people you meet.

How will you entertain those who want to associate with you?

Will you be able to communicate with people from a variety of cultures?

Answers to all of these types of questions can be “yes”. All you have to do is pick something new to learn. Whatever you choose can become a great ice breaker in conversations with old and new friends at seasonal parties.

The Association for Psychological Science claims, based on results of studies comparing people who engaged in learning new activities versus those who did not, learning new things can improve memory and keep your brain healthy for longer.

Mission to Learn states there are many benefits to lifelong learning including social, spiritual and cognitive.

All of these areas effect happiness, confidence and self-esteem, and brain functioning.

Knowledge is empowering for people and gives you the confidence to participate in conversations with a variety of people from all types of cultures. Lifelong learning provides a person the ability to fight boredom, which has been known to lead to depression or relapse or other unhealthy habits.

Learning can also help you sleep better, allowing your body and mind to recuperate. Just as our bodies tire from activity, our minds get tired from learning, helping us sleep better. Furthermore, learning something new encourages others to do the same, making you a good role model. Examples of learning experiences include taking classes on crafting, investing, or writing.

You can also learn a different language or take a photography course.

The list of hobbies you can learn in a short period of time is extremely broad and can range from low key to high impact. You can decide to take a class at a local college or craft store, or study something new while in your pajamas at home.

If holiday stress seems too overwhelming and you have tried many different ways to combat the holiday blues, it may be time to focus only on you and getting your mind and body to a healthy place.

This may mean escaping from holiday stressors so you can recuperate and realign your body, mind and spirit.

Take Yourself On A Trip

Some of the issues that may arise during the holiday season include being away from family.

On the other hand, being with family may be a stressor for some. Also, those with eating disorders and addictions may find the holidays a difficult time.

Vacations are essential to good mental health, especially during the holiday season.

Good vacations, that is. Some vacations can leave us feeling like we need another vacation. When they are supposed to relieve stress, sometimes getting away can add more stress to our lives. Where you vacation and with whom you vacation can contribute to a stress free or stressful get away.

Reasons to take a vacation include getting better sleep, becoming more productive at work upon your return, and reducing stress are just a few.

You can even have a vacation at home rather than travel somewhere to relax.

Tips for escaping, if even briefly, include a long soak in a bubble bath, listening to positive music, using positive scents that fill the air, and meditating.

Escaping may also mean spending a couple of days away from all of the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

If you can’t get away then take the time to take care of yourself through visualizing, breathing, playing, treat yourself to a massage, take naps, take yourself to the movies, or journal the things that make you grateful. Whatever you do, make sure it is about you and relieving stress from your day.

Holiday stress is bound to happen.

But it does not have to be debilitating and lead to a decrease in mental health. Because you are worth it, begin today participating in giving, volunteering, learning a new task, adopting a pet and escaping so that you can boost your happiness and conquer any stressors of the holiday season.