6 Mistakes That Lead To The Holiday Blues

John Zrebiec, L.I.C.S.W., is Director of the Behavioral Health Section at Joslin Diabetes Center.
John Zrebiec, L.I.C.S.W., is Director of the Behavioral Health Section at Joslin Diabetes Center.

As winter approaches, you’re probably anticipating the arrival of holiday festivities — exchanging gifts with loved ones, generous cups of eggnog and spontaneous get-togethers.

Unfortunately, the month-long holiday-fest from Thanksgiving to New Year’s often leaves many of us feeling gloomy.

Loneliness and grief can be intense at this time of the year, and some people get depressed during the holidays, says John Zrebiec, L.I.C.S.W., Director of the Behavioral Health Section at Joslin Diabetes Center.

People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are vulnerable to mood swings, especially during this time of year. Here are some common mistakes people make that trigger depression or anxiety.

You don’t carve out enough time for sleep

Do you skimp on needed sleep to manage overscheduled days? “Rest is important during the holidays and studies show that sleep deprivation has a negative effect on both mood and mind,” says Dr. Zrebiec.

A good remedy: resist the temptation to do more at the expense of rest. Make sure you get at least six and one-half hours of sleep a night.

You binge  

Holidays are when we’re apt to drink more alcohol and eat more goodies than usual. For people with diabetes, another consequence of the holiday season is out-of-control blood glucose levels, says Dr. Zrebiec. “Clearly low blood sugar levels and high blood sugar levels affect mood.”

That’s why it’s extra vital during the holiday shuffle to make sure you maintain good eating habits.

Remember: overeating can come from skipping meals and getting too hungry. Your best bet is to consider eating before you go to a party, because if you aren’t hungry then the party food will be less tempting, says Dr. Zrebiec. This strategy can help offset mood swings.

If you need help, see your registered dietitian for suggestions about how to stick to your meal plan over the holidays.

You live indoors

As the daylight hours grow shorter, fair-weather activities get squeezed out by cold winter weather and after-work commitments. But less daylight can leave you feeling sluggish and sad.

Low levels of serotonin, the mood-elevating brain chemical produced in response to sunlight, is linked to depression and anxiety.

Give yourself a mood lift: Step away from your desk during lunch and take a midday walk. Even a 15-minute stroll outdoors can help clear your mind and boost your energy.

You’re too hard on yourself

For some people with diabetes, it’s all or nothing thinking – either, I am sticking to my diet and taking my insulin perfectly or I am failing, says Dr Zrebiec.

But that kind of black and white approach just doesn’t feel good.  What’s more, it can rob you of your capacity to experience joy during holiday celebrations and beyond.

“If this is you, replace those thoughts with, this is not about being perfect, it’s about doing the best I can,” says Dr. Zrebiec. “Remember, perfect is the enemy of success .”

And, if you do slip into a negative slump, try to redirect your focus as quickly as possible. To do so, Dr. Zrebiec suggests that you take a few moments to ask yourself these questions: Does this thought help me reach my goal or create a barrier to reach my goal? Where did I learn this thought? Is this thought logical? Is this thought true?  The answers will help steer you out of the negative slump.

You forget the reason for the season

During the commercial blitz of the holidays, some people lose sight of what really matters, says Dr. Zrebiec. Rather than rushing from one commitment to the next, be more mindful of how you spend your time. It may be easier said than done, but consider whether your efforts are actually bringing joy and love to your life. If not, get rid of what’s dissatisfying. And, if you need a break, take it, even if it’s just an afternoon getaway.

Keep in mind that depression develops from multiple factors that occur over time. How can you tell when it’s time to seek help?

If you notice serious changes in mood that last for several weeks you should talk with your health care provider, says Dr. Zrebiec. Even more, addressing mood changes is important not only for enjoying your holidays, but for protecting your overall health.

For more help with managing diabetes, click here for more information on Behavioral Health Section or make an appointment with our Adult Clinic at 617-309-2440.

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