It’s that time of year…the holidays are fast approaching and the hustle and bustle, demands, and obligations, compounded by shorter days and colder weather here in New England isn’t a great combination for anyone, let alone those who are recently bereaved and more susceptible to depression and illness.
Here are some tips for keeping yourself healthy—mentally and physically—through the New Year and beyond.
Accept How You’re Feeling
It’s normal to feel sad and low on energy during the holidays after a loved one has died. Much more important than worrying about gifts for others, give yourself the gift of time and space to feel your feelings, to cry, to accept where you are, to take a nap, to take a walk, to get a massage, and not try to paste on a happy face for those around you. People that care about you don’t expect you to act like “everything’s fine” when it’s not.
Keep It Simple
Lower the bar on what you “need to” accomplish so that stress doesn’t take over. Don’t feel obligated to attend every holiday party, event, and activity. Be discerning, trust your instincts, and only do the things that you really want to do and that make you feel good—as good as possible while grieving. Schedule and plan ahead so you don’t become overwhelmed by the holiday fervor. When the calendar is full, it’s time to start saying “No.”
Get Enough Sleep
Try to get seven or eight hours of sleep nightly and stick with a routine of going to bed and getting up at about the same time every day. If you’re suffering from insomnia, before you turn in, enjoy a cup of herbal tea, listen to soothing music, meditate, read a few chapters of a pleasurable book. Stay away from stimulating activities like sitting in front of the computer screen. And avoid heavy meals, lots of sugar or alcohol late in the evening, which can add to sleeplessness. If insomnia persists, make an appointment with your physician or a sleep specialist for a professional evaluation.
Getting vitamin D straight from the source—the sun—is your best bet to ward off seasonal depression and lift your spirits. So bundle up and take a walk or sit on the deck and absorb the warming rays of the sun. If the weather doesn’t permit being outdoors, 20 or 30 minutes every morning in front of a light box, especially designed for people who suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), can help. SAD is a mood disorder that creates depression when days are shorter and there’s less sunlight, which can reduce levels of the mood-lifting chemical serotonin in the brain. There are many choices and prices of light therapy boxes on the market. Ask your physician or psychologist for a recommendation. Vitamin D and other supplements may also help, but again, consult with a doctor about what’s right for you. Also, eating foods that are naturally Vitamin D rich is always a good idea, such as milk, egg yolks, cooked salmon—and other fatty fish—canned tuna and sardines (in oil), as well as fortified orange juice, rice and soy beverages, and butter.
Don’t Neglect Regular Exercise
Incorporate regular physical activity into each day. This doesn’t mean you must go to a gym or structured class, unless that’s something you enjoy.
You can design your own exercise routine that you perform every morning while watching TV or listening to music that incorporates stretches, yoga, body strengthening exercises, etc. at no cost except for a mat and maybe some hand weights. Studies show that it’s not as much about the type of exercise but the regularity that will not only keep you fit and limber—but can help to keep depression at bay.
Avoiding too many parties and social events at the holidays doesn’t mean isolating yourself, either. It’s all about balance. People who are mentally healthy maintain healthy relationships. If you’re feeling blue, reach out—it would be nice if people were mind readers but they’re not. Call a good friend or relative who can make the time to listen, make a date for lunch or a walk. Give and receive hugs—it’s so simple and so healing. And remember, it will get better and you will make it through the holidays if you take care of yourself, first and foremost.