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Guest Editorial: Here's how to beat the holiday blues

As the popular Andy Williams' Christmas song says, "It's the most wonderful time of the year."

But not for everyone.

The holiday season — from Thanksgiving to New Year's — can lead to clinical anxiety or depression.

The condition, known as the "holiday blues," ranges all over the board, from temporary twinges of sadness and mild anxiety to more severe mental and physical problems.

Those who are already living with a mental health condition should take extra care to tend to their overall wellness during the holidays, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The alliance recently conducted a survey that shed more light on the problem: Approximately 24 percent of people with a diagnosed mental illness find that the holidays make their condition "a lot" worse and 40 percent "somewhat" worse."

"What the survey shows is a tremendous need for people to reach out and watch out for each other in keeping with the spirit of the season," said NAMI medical director Ken Duckworth in a news release.

"The holiday season beams a spotlight on everything that is difficult about living with depression," said a Massachusetts woman who responded to the survey. "The pressure to be joyful and social is tenfold."

Approximately 75 percent of the overall respondents to the survey reported that the holidays contribute to feeling sad or dissatisfied. Other findings — 68 percent felt financially strained, 66 percent have experienced loneliness, 63 percent too much pressure and 57 percent unrealistic expectations. About 55 percent of the respondents found themselves remembering happier times in the past contrasting with the present, while 50 percent were unable to be with loved ones.

On top of the expectations and stress of the holidays are other seasonal factors — less sunlight can trigger seasonal affective disorder or SAD; and alcohol at parties and changes in your diet and routines can affect your mood.

Here are some tips from the National Alliance on Mental Illness for avoiding the holiday blues:

• Stick to normal routines as much as possible.

• Get enough sleep.

• Take time for yourself but don't isolate yourself. Spend time with supportive, caring people.

• Eat and drink in moderation. Don't drink alcohol if you are feeling down.

• Get exercise, even if it's only taking a short walk.

• Make a to-do list. Keep things simple.

• Set reasonable expectations and goals for holiday activities such as shopping, cooking, entertaining, attending parties or sending holiday cards.

• Set a budget for holiday activities. Don't overextend yourself financially in buying presents.

• Listen to music or find other ways to relax.

A last bit of advice from the alliance: Remember the holiday blues are short-term. Be patient. Take things week by week or day by day.