Avoid Holiday Depression & Anxiety with Exercise

avoid-holiday-depression-and-anxietyYou may know the feeling: down-in-thedumps, blue, gloomy. Even people who have never experienced clinical depression can suffer from what’s known as SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder; indeed, 3 million Americans are afflicted every year. SAD is essentially depression that hits the same time every year, usually from late fall until the end of winter, though SAD is less common in our neck of the woods since the seasonal change is not nearly as dramatic as say, Maine’s. That said, here in the 941, we too suffer from depression seasonally, though it’s more closely related to the what of the season: the holidays, Thanksgiving to New Year’s. The holiday blues are real and it hurts. But why does it happen?

According to the University of California Davis, the reasons vary but generally include time changes, lack of sleep and exercise, too much food and too much booze, unrealistic expectations about ourselves and our families, and the overall stress of the whole shebang: shopping, cooking, partying, overscheduling, and for a lot of us, the holidays are a sad reminder of those we have lost, be it a death, a horrible tragedy or even a bad breakup. Any or all of these factors may play a role in a case of holiday depression.

So how do you know if you’re depressed? The symptoms may include many of those found in major depression like feeling down, sad or discouraged, hopeless or worthless, having little interest in activities, irritability and mood swings, little to no energy, oversleeping and overeating, problems with relationships, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal from others, and agitation among myriad others.

There’s no shortage of advice about how to beat the holidays blues but some of the best comes from the Mayo Clinic beginning with cutting yourself some slack. You’re sad, it’s ok. But at the same time, you need to “acknowledge your feelings.” Cry if you need to, but don’t isolate if possible. Let someone you love know how you’re feeling. The Mayo Clinic suggests doing something like volunteering; helping others may help to lift your spirits. It also recommends lowering your holiday expectations; it’s not always going to be amazing and perfect. And, let things go, especially with family differences. And for sure try not to overspend because who doesn’t get depressed when they’re broke.

One of the best ways to try and help bring yourself out of the dumps is by really sticking to healthy habits like eating right, sleeping and, perhaps most importantly, through regular exercise.

While science admits that the link between depression (and anxiety) and exercise are not entirely clear, what is known is that physical activity can ease some symptoms primarily through better sleep, for starters.

The Mayo Clinic and WebMD agree that chemicals in the brain including endorphins and endocannabinoids can help people feel better. But perhaps the benefits that are most striking are less physical than they are psychological and emotional. Increased confidence is a big one. If you feel better physically and feel good about your appearance, that’s a boost. Social interaction is huge, too. Working out with others while at first may seem like the last thing you want to do when you’re depressed, is helpful. And then there’s just the basic distraction factor; you don’t have the time to dwell when you’re sweating your butt off on the barre. And bottom line, it’s a healthy coping mechanism.

However, if none of these suggestions are effective, please seek out help from a professional. Sometimes, we just need some help. But bottom line, exercise is known to help so flip through the pages of Fit941 and you’re sure to find a great gym, class, or event.