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Doctors: Be kind to yourself

Odessa American - 11/28/2023

Nov. 27—The holiday season is filled with joy and celebration, but it also can trigger sadness, depression and anxiety.

Local health professionals offered advice on how to manage holiday blues.

Dr. Garima Yadav, a psychiatry fellow at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, said feeling down this time of year can be caused by stressful schedules, unrealistic expectations of yourself and separation from loved ones and loneliness, to name a few.

Yadav said the first thing to do is identify holiday triggers — what makes you feel sad, what is going on in your surroundings that is causing this.

"You always need to give yourself permission to feel your emotions. You do not have to feel ashamed like why am I feeling sad about this when other people are feeling so happy? It's okay to feel what you're feeling. You need to be kind to yourself. You need to give yourself that space," Yadav said.

She added that it's important to follow your routine, as well, like going to the gym or for a walk and meeting friends.

"You need to follow your schedule like still try to get as much sleep as you can, which really helps. The other thing is to take a break from social media. That's one of the things that I would really like to say because social media, especially during the holiday season, you can give a very skewed perspective on the lives of others," Yadav said.

With Instagram and TikTok, you're only seeing 30 seconds of people's lives. It may look happy and joyful, but you don't know what the entire situation is like.

"You will end up feeling that they are happy, but I'm not" and everyone is celebrating with a family, but you're not, she said.

You may not be able to stop being on social media, but Yadav advises people to avoid it as much as possible.

"And realize that it's really just 30 seconds that you're seeing and not everything about them. Be very kind to yourself during this time," she said.

If you're feeling sad or anxious and it's not just one or two days a week, but the majority of the time during the holidays, "it is very helpful to seek out help."

"If you have a therapist, please go ahead and talk to your therapist or schedule an appointment," Yadav said.

Dr. Bobby Jain, Regional Chair of Psychiatry, Permian Basin, said up to 40 percent of people get the holiday blues.

He noted that the winters are milder here and there is more sunlight, which helps people's moods.

Building on Yadav's comments, Jain said maintaining a schedule and putting less pressure on yourself regarding expectations and bring kind to yourself is very essential.

"That's very important to maintain a routine that may include exercising, sunlight, interacting in person, socializing," and staying away from social networks can be helpful as well, Jain said.

Yadav said people might consider a movie instead of watching cable news.

Jain added that there are things going on in the world right now that are "very stressful."

"Images of war can be very harmful. If that is played over and over again in a family environment, that can be detrimental particularly for younger minds. It is important that you communicate with the younger children to apprise them of what's going on in the world. But at the same time, having the images repeated over and over again in a closed loop through cable news can be quite detrimental, so limiting that can be very helpful," Jain said.

Yadav said it's similar to getting on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook.

"You're seeing videos of different people, so it's not going to help you and I feel it's very important for people to understand that what we see out there in general is not the reality," Yadav said.

"It is a very different set of reality which might be there," she added.

Those 30 seconds can take hours to create. People want to put out a picture-perfect moment and there are many filters they can use. Most people are not as happy as they appear in the clips.

"Holidays can be messy. It's very important you pick the entire family members together on the table and even if it's a celebration, you're going to end up arguing. You're going to end up talking about something, triggering something ... That's so normal, but people do not talk about those things. They do not show it out there. It's absolutely normal to feel whatever you feel and acknowledge your emotions," Yadav said.

She recommends talking about them and getting some exercise, like taking a walk.

"Sometimes 20 minutes of walking really helps, especially during those times when you feel anxious or sad," Yadav said.

Jain said holiday depression and anxiety can impact people of any age. He added that this does not include people who may or may not have a mood disorder or those affected by seasonal effective disorder, which is prevalent even in this part of the country.

He said this is because the days are getting shorter and people are less inclined to be outdoors. They get less exercise and are less inclined to interact with other people.

"Seasonal affective disorder is a known entity that can always complicate the holiday blues," Jain said.

Jain said the criteria for major depression is two weeks at a time, for most of the day and the mood doesn't rebound. Getting help, whatever the platform or person — therapist, primary care doctor, counselor — is necessary.

Yadav said if you're feeling depressed and hopeless and have a sudden loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, you're sleeping too much or not enough, constantly feeling anxious, nervous or on edge you should actively seek help.

Yadav said exercise is important year-round, not only during the holidays as it contributes to overall health.

"You will always notice a difference if you just go out for 10 minutes (and) walk in nature," she added.

"Sometimes just being in the environment helps you heal. You can hear the birds chirping ... During those times when we take a walk, we end up acknowledging so many of our emotions ... Specifically during the holiday season, we are with a lot of family members sometimes you just cannot get all that frustration, which you might end up (having) out, so if you go exercise, if you go for a walk, you're just walking it off. ... Exercise releases endorphins and endorphins are the happy hormones as we say," Yadav said.

Jain said getting endorphins and exercising has a direct effect on the mind and body.

"It does not matter what kind of exercise we do. Any form of exercise, be it static exercises like yoga, Pilates or kinetic exercises like running, jogging, bikes and other things, or isometric exercises ... lifting weights. ... That's the single most important factor that is known to be helpful in addressing anxiety and mood issues in the holiday season. Apart from that, limiting alcohol consumption," Jain said.

Third-year medical student Kanishk Goel said Thanksgiving meals are upwards of 4,500 calories, which is about 2.25 times the amount you need per day.

"It's certainly very possible for people to overeat," Goel said. "People who have conditions such as bulimia and anorexia may go the other way. It just depends on the background. But typically, people without those sorts of eating disorders may overeat during the holidays, compounded by the alcohol that Dr. Jain mentioned," Goel said.

Yadav said it's OK not to stress about how much you're eating if you're not suffering from certain medical conditions such as anorexia, binge eating disorder, bulimia or diabetes and hypertension.

If you do have those medical conditions, you need to monitor your diet.

"That does not mean that you can't ... have an extra bite of cake, or pie if you want to ... But you need to focus and do things according to your medical condition and what is better and wise for you," Yadav said.

"For people who do not suffer from any of (those) conditions, it's okay to go out and have two pieces of cake," she added.

Yadav said there is no specific set of rules that people should eat a certain amount at a time.

"If you follow the nutritionist, they ... say when people are following a certain type of exercise, they're always one day off, which is called a cheat diet. You can eat what you want. It's okay to give yourself those cheat days — one or two days ... and there's nothing to feel guilty about," Yadav said.

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