Within two hours of returning to my hometown to visit family for Christmas, it was clear that, even if I wanted to, I would be unable to experience hunger for the next two weeks. That was all the time it took for me to find myself in front of a pulled pork BBQ sandwich, fried okra, baked beans, and a fried chocolate pie. (I am from the south.) Then came the neighbors’ Christmas candy, my mom’s french toast, the midday coffees and nighttime beers with old friends, the holiday parties, the big festive dinners. That’s the holidays for you.
For many people, all of this extra activity and consumption can equal lower-quality sleep, less time for exercise, and increased stress. That means an impaired immune system—so, higher susceptibility to ailments like the cold I just caught from my niece—and the perfect setup for your brain chemicals to go wonky, resulting in anxiety and depression.
Maybe this year you were good about prevention, and did things like lowering your expectations and creating a budget for the holidays. Congratulations! Keep up the good work.
But, if work got crazy right as you were trying to prepare for your family Christmas, then your oven stopped working and you started eating chocolate peppermint bark and some weird pasta-mayo mixture for your meals leading up to a big day of travel and now, some days after Christmas, most of your calories from the past 24 hours have come from whiskey and eggnog and you can actually feel your nerves slowly unraveling…it’s time to do damage control. These might feel like the last things you want to do, but do them. Start your transition out of the holiday blues and into a healthier, happier you. Today. Right now. You will feel human again. For the next five days, every day:
Go for a walk. Have you ever felt like you couldn’t handle your life and then, after getting your heart rate up with physical activity, things didn’t seem quite so bad? Exercise can drastically improve mood. Some studies have even shown exercise to be comparable to antidepressants, and that regular exercise can prevent depressive relapses in those with major depressive disorder. Aim for thirty minutes, though anything is better than nothing.
Eat simple, healthy meals. What you’re eating can play a major role in how you’re feeling , so make sure you’re fueling your body with foods that keep your blood sugar balanced and your hormones in check. In the coming days, as you try to bring yourself back into balance, focus on ease of preparation and nutritional density. Find or create a menu that fulfills these requirements, and then repeat them (or similar meals).
Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine. If you’re already feeling anxious and depressed, caffeine and alcohol can exacerbate those problems. Try cutting them out to help you re-balance. (Though, apparently, if you are dependent on coffee, you should just reduce your intake slowly rather than abruptly stopping, which could worsen depression.
Go to sleep at 11pm (or earlier) and get at least eight hours of sleep. Sleep and depression have a complicated relationship. Sometimes a good night’s rest is enough to put a mental funk behind you. In cases of severe depression, the sleep disorders may be a result. If you’re suffering from the latter, talk to a doctor.
Call someone. Most importantly, understand that no matter how alone you feel right now, you can find a way out. Talking to a friend, family member, or professional who will listen to you without judgment can be a major relief from the pain of depression. Reach out to someone you trust to find support. We all need other people—and there’s nothing wrong with that.