"The winter season's short days, family gatherings, and cold temperatures can be a time of joy and of challenge for those with and without disabilities," says Peggy Swarbrick, PhD, OT, FAOTA, director of the Wellness Institute, Collaborative Support Programs of New Jersey, and a part time assistant professor at the Rutgers University School of Health Related Professions. "Feelings of isolation, sadness due to memories of losses, frustration with limited ability to exercise outdoors, overeating, and overspending can all contribute to holiday depression. Occupational therapy practitioners can help people plan ways to stay well and remain balanced during the winter by developing and maintaining habits and routines that support healthy occupational roles."
To manage the holiday blues, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) suggests the following:
- Open your home. If you have limited mobility and feel like you're missing out on holiday events, offer to hold a casual gathering at your place. Worried about providing for your guests? Make it a pot-luck celebration or afternoon tea. Keep the focus on being with others.
- Share the fun. Ask family members and friends for help when preparing meals, buying gifts, or entertaining. If a friend of loved one offers assistance or transportation, take them up on it. Checking tasks off your to-do list with a friend can make it feel like more of a fun and enjoyable activity.
- Keep your mind active. Baking, scrapbooking, and other activities may prevent the onset of depression and other emotional disorders, according to research.
- Stay physically healthy. Maintain healthy habits and routines including eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Be careful not to over-indulge in high-sugar foods at parties or consume too much alcohol.
- Be selective with RSVPs. Engage only in activities that have true meaning and perpetuate happiness, and consider forgoing those that are stress-inducing.
- Manage your stress. Recognize signs of stress and practice stress management strategies. When you begin to get frustrated, take a few deep breaths, take a break, or use relaxation techniques, including guided imagery or progressive muscle relaxation.
- Curb spending. The holidays prompt many people to spend more than they can afford. Make a holiday budget that not only includes the cost of gifts but also extra meals, postage for mailing gifts, and tickets to special events. Look for ways to keep the spirit and cut the cost. Consider gifts of service, such as offering a family a home-cooked meal on the day of their choice, in lieu of gifts.
- Practice patience. The holidays are not likely to change the attitudes of relatives and friends who may be critical from time to time. Acknowledge these behaviors and plan how you will respond.
- Volunteer. If you find yourself with time on your hands and feel left out from the holiday hustle and bustle, offer to help a local organization, or even a neighbor or a friend. Not only will you be doing a good thing, but you will meet may new people who share your interests.
- Be responsible and set priorities. Give yourself a break. Emphasize the spirit of giving rather than the amount. Focus on what you can do and appreciate what is good enough. Your time and thoughtfulness is worth much more than an expensive gift.
- Laugh. Research indicates using laughter and humor can help one cope with stress, pain, or sadness.
According to AOTA, occupational therapy "promotes the establishment of healthy habit patterns; familiar, predictable routines; and increased engagement in meaningful occupations that serve both as protective and healing factors in combating the negative effects of stress." Listen to a 6-minute podcast on beating the holiday blues: http://www.aota.org/Practice/
Founded in 1917, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) represents the professional interests and concerns of more than 140,000 occupational therapists, assistants, and students nationwide. The Association educates the public and advances the profession of occupational therapy by providing resources, setting standards including accreditations, and serving as an advocate to improve health care. Based in Bethesda, Md., AOTA's major programs and activities are directed toward promoting the professional development of its members and assuring consumer access to quality services so patients can maximize their individual potential. For more information, go to www.aota.org.
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