Here's what to do when life seems anything but merry.
(Photo: Casey Shaw for USA WEEKEND)
USA TODAY - Lights are twinkling across houses and trees, bells are jingling on street corners and holiday tunes are telling you it's the most wonderful time of the year. And yet, you're just not feeling it.
If you're far from merry and not the least bit jolly, you may be suffering from a bout of the holiday blues. Between the gift buying, feast prepping and sometimes less-than-peaceful family gatherings, experiencing feelings of sadness, disappointment, frustration or fatigue is not unusual, according to the American Psychological Association.
But the holiday blues are often temporary and limited to the season; and there are steps you can take to help minimize stress, improve your outlook and feel better. Here are some:
Have realistic expectations.
You won't be able to buy everything on your little ones' wish lists, you might not find one of the decorations you packed away last year, and no doubt you'll burn something or other in the oven. So what? Holidays don't have to be perfect, and resting comfortably in that fact may help ease frustration. Also remember that as families grow and change, so will the way you celebrate the holidays. Preserve a few of your favorite traditions and rituals if you can, but be open to creating new ones.
Maintain healthy habits.
Having an extra holiday cookie now and then is one thing, but overindulging at every party, eating and drinking until you can't fit any more in, only adds to feelings of guilt. And sleeping less or skipping your regular workouts both contribute to depressive symptoms. Do your best to stick to your normal routine.
Set aside specific days to shop or bake; think about your holiday dinner menu and make a grocery list; buy extra hostess gifts so you're prepared for parties - all practical ideas that help prevent the late scramble or frantic store run, which can add an insane (and unnecessary) amount of stress.
Take a breather.
It's easy to get swept up in the frenzy, trying to be everything to everyone. Remember you are only one person and you need to take care of yourself, too.
Spending even just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may be enough to recharge your battery. Take a walk, listen to soothing music, get a massage - whatever helps calm and clear your mind.
Be mindful of your feelings.
If you experience a number of more severe symptoms - such as persistent unhappiness or hopelessness; losing interest in activities you used to love; changes in appetite, sex drive or sleep; trouble concentrating or lack of energy - and these feelings begin to interfere with everyday life, talk to your doctor. He may evaluate you for seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that lasts the same few months every year, or clinical depression, which requires treatment.
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)