We see it on television, magazine ads and movies — a table covered with delicious food, a perfectly decorated house, and family and friends laughing together in the glow of a warm fire.

The year 2020 will go down as one of the hardest we have ever faced. Regular holiday seasons are difficult to manage. We have expectations that exceed normal thoughts.

Unrealistic expectations can lead to the “holiday blues,” which often begins before Thanksgiving and lasts until after the first of the year, according to Ellen Lucas, associate director of Ball State’s Counseling Center.

She points out other factors contributing to holiday stress: the loss of a job or house, a friend or relative unable to come home or grief for someone who recently died.

In addition, people frequently experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and feel more depressed due to the cold, gloomy days of winter, she said.

So what can you do? Lucas has 10 ideas that we should reflect on:

  1. Set realistic expectations and accept that no holiday gathering is perfect.
  2. Make a holiday budget and stick to it.
  3. Express your feelings. Write in a journal or talk to someone you trust.
  4. Make a plan and realistically structure your time.
  5. Reach out to other people. Volunteer through your community or church.
  6. Watch your alcohol consumption; alcohol is a depressant.
  7. Exercise. Take a walk, do resistance training or do yoga. This will help release endorphins, the natural opiates in our brains.
  8. Stick to your usual eating habits. Plan what you will eat before going to gatherings so you don’t overeat
  9. Don’t compare yourself to others. You don’t need to have the best light display in the neighborhood or the best party or give the most expensive presents.
  10. Think about what is the most important part of the holidays for you and focus on what the holidays mean to you.  

Lucas advises those who have feelings of depression lasting more than two weeks to seek professional attention. Symptoms include a disturbance in sleeping or eating, an inability to concentrate and feeling hopeless and worthless.

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