"Some people are unable to embrace the joy that they think everyone else is feeling this time of year," says Phil Johnson, EdD, an adjunct professor at Columbia University in New York City who specializes in mind-body health. An empty nest, a recent divorce, illness, or thoughts about a lost loved one can put a damper on the holiday high.
Begin by putting a finger on what's got you down. A recent study of loneliness found that sufferers experience either social or emotional emptiness. Married women sustained the most social isolation—despite having a husband and kids, they felt like they lacked a wider circle of friends to give them a sense of belonging. Divorced and single women reported being emotionally lonely. Although they had plenty of friends, they yearned for a more intimate connection.
Once you accept and understand why you're feeling blue, respond to unhappy thoughts by focusing on being grateful, advises Johnson. "Make a list of all the good things in your life and carry it around. Pull it out when you're feeling low," he says. Remind yourself of activities that lift your spirits and commit to spending at least 10 minutes a day indulging yourself, no matter how busy you may be. And find ways to help others who are less fortunate than you to quickly flip a negative attitude into a positive one. Consider volunteering at a homeless shelter or for Meals on Wheels, which can be hurting for staff around the holidays.
And while waves of moodiness are natural, if your feelings of depression persist for more than three or four days and affect your daily life (you can't get out of bed, you feel hopeless, or are unable to eat or sleep), your condition may be clinical. Consult your regular doctor or a mental health professional, or contact the American Psychological Association (locator.apa.org) or the American Psychiatric Association (psych.org). If you have thoughts about harming yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.