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Mental Health Matters: Six mental-health traps over the holidays

If you hate the holidays, or at least find yourself dreading rather than looking forward to them, chances are you can relate to one or more of the items on our list of most common causes of low mood at this time of the year.

For those of you who wrote to us about how to survive the season, here are the top six traps and tips to manage them:

• Increased stress: By far the biggest complaint is the stress load that seems to come at this time of the year. Shopping for the perfect present and worrying about the money it costs, bad weather, decorating, office parties, travelling to visit family or preparing for family to visit you, increased demands at work — the list is actually much longer.

You can reduce your stress during the holiday season in a number of ways, such as being more organized, sharing the household workload, decreasing unrealistic expectations (“maybe my mother-in-law won’t be critical about things this year . . .”), keeping perspective on what is actually important and refusing to allow events, people or things outside of our control to dictate our moods.

Easier said than done, but it is possible to be in charge of your own mood by being prepared in advance about how you are going to ensure you have what you need.

• Low light:  Christmas occurs at the time of the year when light is the lowest and there are many health and mental health repercussions from too little sunlight: Low mood, tiredness, appetite changes, sleep pattern change, reduced immunity and much more.

If you have issues with low light every winter, you should see your doctor about ways to combat it. Options include melatonin supplements, full spectrum lights, strict diet management and other strategies.

• Family issues: Some people are stressed by the numbers of family members they will be dealing with, while others are stressed because they have no family to spend the holidays with.

For those experiencing their first Christmas after a death, divorce or loss, there can be difficult reminders of the way things “used to be.”

Every family has issues and, sometimes, the stresses and excesses cause family feuds and old resentments to resurface with a vengeance. In-laws can be particularly irritating with a feeling they have more licence to be critical — and these comments seem amplified at this time of year.

If this is the pattern of your holidays, change it! Do something differently this year or spend it with different people.

If you are forced to spend time with people who are not particularly nice to you, sometimes it helps to understand there is a start, middle and end to the visit — and, try not to participate in the pettiness.

• Rest and sleep: Wives and mothers tend to be up early preparing food and up late wrapping gifts and baking.  Family traditions seem to fall on women to maintain and everybody’s Christmas enjoyment seems to rely on mom’s efforts.

While others are enjoying the visiting and shopping and seasonal entertainment, others are the Christmas slaves who keep the whole train moving. Make a decision to change that with more co-operation and participation from everyone.

• Overeating: Food types and food amounts affect our mood. Turkey contains L-tryptophan, an amino acid that does produce hormones that sedate us somewhat. However, there are actually just as much in chicken and even more in carbohydrate-rich foods.

Moderate your food intake. Eat many things as opposed to large servings.

• Too much alcohol: With the parties, the food, the family and work gatherings, alcohol sales and intake increase dramatically during the 10 days of Christmas and New Year's Eve celebrations.

Spread your alcoholic drinks out over the evening and find a non-alcoholic beverage you enjoy just as much — and your mental health will thank you for it.

Not enough sleep:  After looking at the first five items on the list, is it any wonder proper sleep quality and quantity is a casualty of the holiday season? Plan some naps where and if you can and, through delegation and dedication to organizational skills, you can actually increase your sleep.

This is a short list of the things to watch for in order to improve your mood over the holidays. Thank you to those who wrote to us at with your requests and questions.














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