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This Christmas, learn how to manage your holiday blues

December can feel like the loneliest time of the year. It’s a good idea to come up with coping mechanisms

The pressure to celebrate, even be extraordinarily joyful, can be overwhelming. (iStockphoto)

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While we associate holidays with feelings of warmth, festive spirit, meeting friends and gifting, December can be extremely hard on emotional well-being. In therapy, clients often say this feels like the loneliest month, dogged by a constant low mood and anxiety fuelled by the commercialisation of the festive season, which comes with the pressure to celebrate, gift, be social, even extraordinarily joyful.

As we navigate December, it would be a good idea to examine our triggers when it comes to this time of the year and how we can have coping mechanisms, even boundaries, that help us deal with the holiday blues and sense of being overwhelmed that we may experience.

This is the time of year when work slows down for most people. There is a larger window for people to sit, contemplate, even introspect. Learning how you can introspect and examine your life without going down the rabbit hole of self-loathing or self-blame is critical from a well-being perspective.

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We need to allow ourselves the space to feel while mindfully reminding ourselves of our achievements and learnings through the year. Making a list of achievements, personally and professionally, keeping in mind where you were last year versus where you are this year, is important. It isn’t ideal to compare your life to that of others, whose ecosystem, concerns and even privileges we know nothing about.

As Christmas movies about love make their presence felt, along with the wedding season, the idea of togetherness and the narrative that the world is designed for couples begins to emerge. This faulty perception and belief can be hard for many, evoking feelings of loneliness and sadness that impact self-esteem and a view of life.

Those who are dealing with grief, separation, divorce, feeling unheard and unseen in their relationships, as well as those who are single, talk about feeling pressured. They wonder what they can do to feel less lonely and find a partner or a larger community where they experience a sense of belonging. Ask yourself how you can reach out to friends and family to talk about what you are experiencing and build in realistic beliefs that add to your overall resilience.

An attitude of mindfulness is important when it comes to social media, particularly in this season. My experience tells me that the lonelier people feel, the more likely they are to spend time on social media. Scrolling can trigger feelings of anxiety, a feeling that while everyone is out there enjoying, you are not doing enough with your life. It can compound feelings of loneliness. Sometimes, resilience lies in being mindful about how much time you spend on social media.

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Sometimes, in the pursuit of letting go and having fun, we may choose to engage in a binge, whether it’s TV watching, eating or drinking; this too can impact how we feel about ourselves.

A client tells me: “Last year I spent time from 29th to 31st watching my favourite show back-to-back and finishing the season. While it seemed fun, enjoyable, it tired me out and by the time it was 1st January, I felt groggy, lethargic and irritable. This year, I need to consciously figure a way to take breaks, head out a little and maybe schedule meeting at least one friend so I don’t end up dealing with my loneliness by immersing myself in TV shows.”

Ask yourself what guard rails you need to deal with the holiday blues and schedule social interaction, emotionally soothing activities, possibly a structure to your day, and figure a way to limit your social media consumption. Most importantly, ask yourself how you are making room for hope and optimism in your heart as we step into the next year.

Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.

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