Contrary to popular belief, the suicide rate actually does not spike around Christmastime, and in fact becomes lower than average. (It's actually highest between April and August. Who knew springtime was such a bummer?).

Many people do, however, report feeling increased negative emotions around the holidays. Because as "cheery" as the holiday season may be, it's also, quite frankly, a time that can be a little depressing.

Popular culture sets our Christmas expectations so high that if any aspect of your life doesn't live up to some Hallmark-card ideal, you may feel cheated and disappointed. Plus, if you were already depressed, the expectation that you be happy will probably make your bad mood even worse!

Gift-shopping can raise awareness of financial woes, and those who have strained relationships with their family or are temporarily separated from them by circumstance may find themselves in a not-so-jolly mood.

The reduced daylight hours that come in wintertime may also lead some people to experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that is thought to be caused by a hormonal response to less sun exposure.

If that weren't enough, Christmas brings with it disruption of usual schedules, crowded shopping malls, stressful travel plans, and, usually, a slew of opportunities to indulge in unhealthy foods and alcoholic beverages.

It's not surprising that many people report physical symptoms like bloating and reduced energy levels in addition to their mental woes during the holiday season!


For a more balanced holiday, it may help to maintain realistic expectations and set reasonable priorities. Keeping to a regular eating and sleeping schedule and trying to stick to a healthy diet between indulgences could go a long way towards keeping yourself sane, and exercise can also be a great mood-booster!

Another idea if you're struggling to stay positive this holiday season is to look into volunteering. You may find that helping someone else can help you take your mind off of your own problems, and you'll probably do a lot of good in the process.

It's also OK to take some time out for yourself if you're struggling to keep it together, even if it may disappoint some friends and family members. On the other hand, if you've been feeling down and could use some more support from your loved ones, don't be afraid to ask for it!

Instead of burning yourself out trying to make your Christmas perfect, it might be wiser to accept that what you can do is enough, and focus on being thankful for what you do have instead of pining for an imagined ideal.

Doing so could be surprisingly good for your health! The idea that positive emotions can be good for you isn't new, and the field of positive psychology has put a lot of work into the formal study of gratitude. Their findings were pretty intriguing ones; gratitude has basically been associated with positive health outcomes for people of all ages and nationalities.

For example, one study showed that people who were told to write about things they were grateful for were more optimistic and felt better about their lives than people instructed to write about negative or neutral events.

Another study found that people instructed to write letters of gratitude towards someone they felt hadn't been properly thanked experienced a huge increase in happiness, and some of this happiness boost stuck around for an entire month!

In yet another study done on subjects suffering from depression and anxiety, participants who had been assigned to write a gratitude journal reported significantly better mental health than a control group.


Other research has found that keeping a gratitude journal can be associated with headaches, less stomach pain, clearer skin, reduced congestion, lower blood pressure, and even lower levels of systemic inflammation.Being more thankful could improve your social and professional life as well. Expressions of gratitude from an employer have been found to make employees work harder, and partners who more frequently expressed gratitude to their significant other were found to be more likely to stay together.

The researchers found that this seemed to be due to a feedback loop of kindness; when each partner feels more appreciated for what they do, they are more motivated to go out of their way for their other half. Being more grateful also makes you more likable overall; more grateful people have been found to have more friends.

Finally, in patients recovering from heart attacks, gratefulness and optimism were associated with improved blood vessel function. Grateful patients were also more likely to comply with doctors recommendations.

This suggests a possible explanation for some of gratitude's physical effects. It could be less that gratitude is doing anything good for our bodies but that it makes us more motivated to take care of ourselves.

Still, it's a health win either way! Thinking or writing about what you're thankful for are both easy exercises that could be a great way to lift your spirits this season, or why not go out of your way to thank someone who means a lot to you instead? 'Tis the season, after all!


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