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SAD is normal – how you can overcome your winter blahs

As December unfolds, the air is filled with anticipation and excitement for the upcoming holidays. However, amidst the festive spirit, the pressure to wrap up work tasks, attend social gatherings, and fulfill family obligations can lead to a spike in stress levels. Managing the year-end rush is crucial to prevent burnout and preserve your mental well-being. In this article, we’ll explore practical strategies to navigate the December chaos and prioritize self-care in ways that DON’T take up more of your time.

What is “SAD”?

An acronym that pretty much explains it – Seasonal Affective Disorder, caused by a change in the seasons. It is common in the winter, but also can happen in spring or summer. It can happen to teenagers as well as adults. Though it can complicate other mental health issues, it isn’t necessarily always an add-on – sometimes, and often, we all just feel down in these cold months packed with stress.

How to Deal

First of all, don’t feel bad about feeling bad, whether it is anxiety or depression. This is kind of a setup perpetuated by commercial realities. Everyone wants to get EVERYTHING done before the holidays, and there are so many expectations around work, family, friends, and gifts, not to mention all the unexpected stuff that can come up.


Before you start your day, take a few minutes when you get up to meditate or journal. Getting your mind clear before the avalanche of the day starts will help you be less reactive, anxious, and be able to prioritize so you will get more done. I write all about it here:

Prioritize the right foods

In my article about SAD previously I focused on fighting the winter blues with food, so you can jump to that to learn how foods like salmon, blueberries and dark chocolate can immediately improve your mood:

Block Your Calendar

One effective way to maintain a semblance of control during the hectic holiday season is to proactively block your calendar. Designate specific time slots for work, family commitments, and personal downtime, including meditation, the first tip.

There is the problem of people trying to double-book you. You can always decline and say you have a conflict. If someone does this on a regular basis, you may need to have a brief convo with them about how blocking the calendar is for a reason.

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Prioritize Tasks

Create a comprehensive list of tasks that need immediate attention and those that can wait until January. Prioritize your workload and focus on completing high-priority assignments first. By acknowledging that not everything needs to be done before the holidays, you can alleviate some of the pressure and create a more manageable to-do list.

Get Daily Physical Activity – Before New Year’s

Exercise is a powerful stress reliever, and incorporating physical activity into your daily routine can help mitigate the effects of holiday stress. Whether it’s a brisk walk, a short workout, or yoga, make an effort to move your body regularly. Exercise releases endorphins, which act as natural mood lifters, and can contribute to a more positive mindset during this demanding time. Even if it is just a 10 minute stretching session or walk, it will do wonders.

a man standing in a canyon with the sun shining through the rocks
Photo by NEOM

Daily Sun / Outside exposure

The weather can make it unappealing to go out and about, but sunlight will definitely brighten your mood and give you much needed vitamin D. Your body adjusts to the cold if you have the right gear on. Even if it is only a quick 5 minute walk to grab a cup of coffee, walk your dog, or go to run a quick errand it will do wonders for your mood. Consider even taking a work call outside – see my YouTube video about Zoomwalking!

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Set Realistic Expectations

It’s essential to set realistic expectations for yourself in terms of work and family commitments. Communicate openly with colleagues, friends, and family about your capacity and availability. Establish boundaries to prevent overextending yourself, and don’t be afraid to delegate tasks when necessary. Recognizing and accepting your limitations is a key aspect of managing stress during the holiday rush.

white and pink digital device
Photo by Adem AY

Digital Detox

In the age of constant connectivity, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the constant influx of information. Consider implementing a digital detox by setting specific periods during the day when you disconnect from email, social media, and news updates. This break from the digital noise can significantly reduce stress levels and help you maintain focus on your immediate priorities.

I like to choose the morning, for at least an hour after I wake up, because it helps me ingrain the habit of meditation and practice more self-care before I dive into the digital world. Checking messages or media can raise your cortisol, which can be bad news bears, as I write here:

Connect with People IRL

It is related to the above of “digital detox.” Right now may seem like the last time you want to make plans to go get coffee with your friends or lunch with your co-workers given the crammed calendar of get-togethers. But human connection can really remind you why live is worth living and keep you from getting in your head. And even if you really don’t have time, make sure to be present mentally for all of those gatherings, instead of worrying about how much time you will lose doing work. You can’t do anything about it now, and you will enjoy yourself and feel more relaxed after laughing and having a good time.

two men laughing white sitting on chairs
Photo by Helena Lopes

You can even combine these by going to a coffee shop to do work a few hours before/after you meet a friend. I do this all the time. Something about the coziness and hearing chatter just cheers me up.

Quality Sleep

sleeping monkey during daytime
Photo by нυвιѕ тανєяη

Adequate sleep is crucial for overall well-being, especially during stressful times. Prioritize a consistent sleep schedule, create a relaxing bedtime routine, and ensure your sleep environment is conducive to rest. Quality sleep plays a significant role in managing stress and maintaining a balanced mental state.


If you or someone you care about are experiencing mental health issues that need professional help, contact one of the resources here.

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