Do anxiety and depression join you during your holiday season? They certainly can hang around for a long time because for many of us worldwide, autumn and very early winter bring a steady stream of celebrations from traditions both secular and religious. This, of course, is generally a wonderful thing. Celebrating aspects of our lives is important for our mental health and wellbeing. It shifts our focus from “to-do” to “to-be,” from negative to positive. Celebrations also have the potential to connect people anew. They also present a plethora of opportunities to enjoy practicing mindfulness. Holidays can indeed be all this. However, they can also be stressful and even painful. Anxiety and depression skyrocket during the holiday season. There are things you can do to uninvite anxiety and depression from your holidays and replace them with peace, joy, love, and light.
Anxiety, depression, and stress can be unwelcome guests all through the holiday season, or they might wax and wane depending on circumstances. Knowing what deflates your mental health and wellbeing faster than a flock of geese dive-bombing a Macy’s Thanksgiving parade balloon can help you separate yourself from these party spoilers. Take some time to reflect on yourself and situation to identify what is most bothersome. You can then plan to change what you do or where you go or with whom you get together.
By purposefully addressing two big holiday themes—food and meaning— you can free yourself from anxiety and depression’s cold grasp this season. Let’s take a look at how what you eat and the meaning you make can wrap up holiday depression, anxiety, and stress and send them to the South Pole (because no one wants to send those things to Santa—we’ll stick to letters and cookies).
Get Friendly with Food
The old saying is true. We really are what we eat. The things we eat play a role not just in our physical health, but our mental health, too. There is a direct link between the food we eat and the drinks we drink and anxiety, depression, and other facets of mental health. It looks a bit like this:
Many holiday foods can cause or aggravate anxiety. The same can be said for holiday food and depression. Food and drink are often the focal point and main activity of holiday celebrations. Minimizing sugary deserts and beverages, processed foods, and alcohol can go far in reducing jitters and blues. If it’s not practical to completely eliminate them, choose what you do consume intentionally. Select a few things and pass by others.
Help yourself feel great mentally and physically not just by minimizing the bad but by increasing the amount of brain-friendly foods you eat. There are foods that actually enhance brain functioning and combat anxiety and depression.
Just a few foods that will help keep anxiety and depression at bay include:
- Lean meats like turkey (happy Thanksgiving!)
- Tuna, salmon, and other fatty fish
- Whole grains, those that naturally contain gluten (such as wheat) or gluten-free varieties (like rice, quinoa, or amaranth)
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts, particularly raw
You’ll likely find these foods at parties and gatherings, and they’re easy to stock up on at home, too. That way, you can provide a steady stream of just the right nutrients to your brain as a buffer against low or anxious moods.
How you eat is as important as what you eat. Eating mindfully reduces stress and helps you feel centered because it involves being present with your food and people you’re with as well as fully experiencing your food. Some tips for enjoying holiday food and company:
Practicing mindfulness all through the holiday season, at the table and beyond, will help you feel peace, joy and love. So, too, will creating meaning.
Meaning-Making Makes More Good, Less Bad
Meaning trumps mood. To be sure, it doesn’t “cure” depressive disorders or anxiety disorders. Meaning provides positive perspective and motivation. It’s you’re “why,” your reason for doing something even when it’s hard. It helps drive your “how,” the courage and strength you’ll draw from to show up. (See Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: Why and How. When you know your own personal values, you can focus on living for those instead of on battling anxiety, depression, or stress.
- Find your why and how—make meaning—for your holidays with these activities:
- What is important to you? What do you value?
- Create realistic goals for yourself and the holidays. (Watch expectations & comparisons.)
- Do more of what moves you toward your goals and less of what keeps you stuck.
- Start each day by reflecting on a value and/or a goal.
- Jot down an inspirational message to yourself (a quote or an affirmation), and let it be your mantra that day.
- List about three things you’ll do that day to honor that value.
- At the end of the day, write three things for which you’re grateful in your day
When anxiety or depression does crash your holiday celebration, and when stress is overwhelming, pause and turn back to your sense of meaning. Be mindful of the good in your situation right now. And feed your brain so you can find many moments of joy.
Happy holidays to you and your loved ones. Enjoy these simple and effective tips for boosting wellbeing during the holidays and throughout the year:
Looking for more tools to replace anxiety with wellbeing? Check out these books!
- The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal
- The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety
- The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety
- Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps