Living Well

Five Steps for Keeping a Bright Outlook This Holiday

Last updated: Dec 04, 2012


Do images of happy families, luxurious gifts, abundant meals, and beautifully decorated homes make you feel sad, lonely, and stressed during the holidays? If you answered yes to this question, you’re not alone.

For many people, the holidays are a reminder of loved ones who are gone, family conflicts, and financial difficulties. They also can underscore feelings of inadequacy as the New Year approaches and you take stock of the goals you didn’t reach during the previous year.

The good news is there are practical steps you can take each day
to guard against holiday blues!

Five things you can do to stabilize and boost your mood during the holidays are:

  • Exercise regularly
    Research shows that exercising regularly (45 minutes at least 3 times per week) compared favorably to antidepressant treatment in people with major depressive disorder. In addition, exercisers also had lower rates of recurrent depression than subjects who did not exercise1
  • Eat regularly and eat a balanced diet
    Data from one study show that spikes in blood sugar from eating sugars (carbohydrates) can cause mood changes.2 These data support the importance of keeping your blood sugar levels constant by eating a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and heart-healthy fats, while minimizing refined sugars, salt, saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol, and alcohol. Many nutritionists recommend eating 5 or 6 small meals a day to keep your blood sugar even
  • Get plenty of sleep
    Sleep is important for restoring memory and ensuring the ability to concentrate, accurately perform motor skills, and keep emotions on an even keel. In addition, being sleepy during waking hours can contribute to social and family conflicts and lead to depression3
  • Get 20 minutes of sunshine each day
    Research shows that as many as 10 percent of people in the United States report symptoms of seasonal depression, with seasonal mood changes most prevalent during the cold months when the days are shorter.4 Getting just 20 minutes of sunlight outside each day can help you beat the blues, so be sure to take that lunchtime walk outside each day
  • Get professional help if you need it
    See your doctor immediately if your sadness and/or anxiety persist for more than 2 weeks, you lose your appetite, lose weight, have little energy, feel shame or guilt, lose interest in normal activities, have difficulty concentrating, and have thoughts of death or suicide

Summit Medical Group Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Director James Korman, PsyD, ACT, recommends taking time from holiday activities to rest and reflect. Dr. Korman says, "Attending many holiday parties can tire you, overspending can cause emotional stress, and trying to please all your family members and friends can leave you feeling overwhelmed. For these reasons, I recommend keeping your activities simple and realistic during the holidays. Focus on spending time with people instead of buying gifts and be sure you take time to exercise, eat right, get some sunshine, rest, and repair."


1. Blumenthal JA, Babyak MA, Doraiswamy PM, et al. Exercise and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder. Psychosom Med. 2007;69(7):587-96.
2. Golomb BA, Koperski S, Rose N. Mood food: chocolate and depressive symptoms in a cross-sectional analysis. Arch Intern Med. 2010; 170:1608.
3. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention. CDC Features. Insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic. Accessed December 4, 2012.
4. Rosen LN, Targum SD, Terman M. Prevalence of seasonal affective disorder at four latitudes. Psych Res. 1990. 31;131-144.