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For many, blues sap holiday joy

Have you or someone you know had a holiday season that felt overwhelming? What about a winter where you wanted to stay indoors, even on nicer days?

Winter blues and holiday anxieties are a mystery to those who look forward to the holidays and snow. For those who suffer from anxiety or depression (or both) during these coming months, it can be difficult to realize or admit it because they think they are supposed to be happy.

If the holidays are a time of fun, friends, family and gatherings, then why for some is it a time of anxiety, fatigue, loneliness and financial stress?

Anxiety and depression can manifest in many ways this time of year. I see patients complaining of headaches, weight gain, insomnia, sleeping longer, excessive drinking, moodiness and losing interest in usually enjoyable activities.

If you feel anxious or depressed this time of year, what can you do to get through the hectic swirl of holidays and the darker days of winter? How might you even enjoy them a bit?

The first thing to do is to think about what usually bothers you this time of year. Is it the shorter days, change of season, or something else? Do you exercise less during winter months?

Perhaps you become exhausted from doing too much? Are you missing a loved one?

Once you realize what contributes to getting you down, you can take steps to stay in a better frame of mind.

I find it helps if I avoid committing to too much this time of year. There are only so many hours in the day and I have to decide that it is OK to say “no” to some activities and to do something more in line with the season when I can.

Volunteering with a charity or senior center gives you those smiles and good feelings that can last through the year if you keep it up. Some friends of ours have a family tradition of volunteering together at a soup kitchen every Christmas Eve.

Another friend does not shop much, but instead donates money to a charity in the name of all of her friends and then sends out cards to let them know about the organization and to wish them a happy holiday.

For the tasks you think must be accomplished this season, it can be easier and more fun if you ask for help or do projects with friends or family.

Winter months (like the rest of the year) are easier if we stick with good diet and exercise as much as possible.

Keeping up a healthy diet is easier than it sounds. At parties, I fill up on healthier foods first and then only go to the dessert table once. I have a stash of healthy snacks at work so all of the cakes and goodies do not look so tempting.

Alcohol is a part of many holiday parties, but avoid overindulging – drink water or your favorite nonalcoholic drink instead.

Staying active on snowy days can mean heading to the skating rink or your sledding hill at the park.

If you do not have an exercise routine, it is a good idea to find a simple activity you can do regularly now and continue even when days are demanding. Planning ahead a little now can make all the difference.

For many of us it is the expectations of others and ourselves that make this season stressful. I stop and prioritize; items at the bottom of my list may not get done at all.

I try to do something a little different each year. Maybe you can take up a new winter sport like snowshoeing.

People ask me how we dealt with the long winter nights in Alaska when we lived there. It became a habit to invite friends over for a simple dinner, to work on crafts or indoor projects and to play board games instead of watching TV.

If none of that sounds interesting, then just remember to find your own path to a good winter and a happy holiday season.

It may mean doing less than you usually do or it may mean doing more. Take care of yourself, get creative and have fun.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your questions and comments to