Combat Those Holiday Blues with New Research on Depression

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While the holiday season is the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for most, for others, it can be anything but a time for joy and cheer.

For those who suffer from Depression, November-January can cause an increase in symptoms due to demands, stress, lack of money, lack of time, pressures of gift giving, expectations, family issues, social isolation, grieving, etc.

Even those that normally do not experience Depression, can be hit with the holiday blues during this time of year.

“I think a lot of people would say that the holidays are the worst time of the year,” says Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “They’re just straight up miserable, and that’s not only for people with clinical depression.”

There are many tips to managing stress and Depression during the holiday season:

  • Work with a Therapist
  • Avoid Family Conflict (plan ahead with prepared neutral responses such as “Let’s talk about that another time,” and then run for cover to Grandma or the kids.)
  • Expectation Management (While you should always strive for excellence, having realistic expectations upfront, will set you up for success.)
  • Time Management (shop early to avoid the Christmas Crunch)
  • Financial Management (spread out the holiday purchases over time to avoid one huge hit to the account)
  • Don’t Isolate (Reach out to others that are also alone, or volunteer to help those in need)
  • Focus on What Matters (financials woes, presents, etc., is not what the holiday season is about. Experiences are what we hold onto forever. Make a fire and roast marshmallows, decorate Christmas cookies while watching a hallmark movie (or 50), sip on cocoa while building a snowman, go ice skating/sledding/tubing, there is so much you can do that cost very little and will give you a lifetime of memories.)
  • Ask for Help (you don’t have to do it all by yourself, nor should you!)
  • Schedule time for yourself to get a break from the holiday madness.
  • Sleep (don’t let the holidays ruin your sleep schedule. Try to get up and get to bed the same time everyday)

and last but arguably, one of the most important things you can do (if not the most important) to combat holiday stress and Depression is

  •   Prioritize your workouts.

Do not let your workouts suffer during the holidays. Your workouts are even more important during this time of year, however, they can be the first thing that gets sacrificed during the holiday shuffle.

Nothing combats those holiday blues more than sweating it out!

According to a study reported in Harvard Medical School’s: Harvard Women Health Watch, “running for just 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression”. This study was published in the January online issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association of Psychiatry.

According to the study, researchers saw a 26% decrease in the odds for an individual experiencing depression from each major increase in objectively measured physical activity.

“This increase in physical activity is what you might see on your activity tracker if you replaced 15 minutes of sitting with 15 minutes of running, or one hour of sitting with one hour of moderate activity like brisk walking”, according to Dr. Karmel Choi, a clinical research fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

According to Dr. Choi, “we hear a lot that exercise and mood are connected. What we don’t know for sure is whether being physically active can improve emotional well-being, or if we simply move less when we feel sad or depressed”.

This study was conducted to answer this important question,“does physical activity protect against depression? Or does depression simply reduce physical activity? Our study allowed us to untangle those questions in a powerful new way using genetic data”.

According to Dr. Choi, “having access to genetic data allowed researchers to use genetic variations between people as a kind of natural experiment to better see how exercise affects depression, and vice versa. What we found is that exercise was able to independently reduce the risk for depression”.

This study found that people who moved more had significantly lower risk for major depressive disorder. A very important distinction between this and other studies, was that this study was objectively measured requiring the use of a tracking device.

Other studies using the “Self -Reporting” methodology on how much the exerciser actually exercises, has become devalued due to evidence showing the average person overestimating how physically active they are by 40% and underestimating by 40% how many calories they consume.

“We see in the research literature that objective and self-reported measures of physical activity don’t always line up, objective measures offer unique perks because they don’t rely on people’s memory and are not affected by people wanting to present themselves in a certain way.”

Another benefit of the tracking device was its ability to measure overall movement. It was far more effective at measuring physical activity such as those conducted while performing Activities of Daily Living (ADLs).

According to Dr. Choi, “what our study would say is that any kind of movement can add up to keep depression at bay. I think that’s why our study findings were especially appealing. It didn’t say you have to run a marathon, do hours of aerobics, or have to be a CrossFit Master, just to see benefits on depression.”

If you train like a competitive athlete, good for you. Keep it up! But it is certainly not a necessity for you to train long and hard to derive health benefits.

The 15-minute run or the hour long moderately brisk walk described above will not only reduce your risk of depression and improve your mood, it can also provide additional health benefits and weight/fat loss.

“’Intentionally moving your body in more gentle ways throughout the day such as, walking, stretching, taking stairs, doing the dishes- can still add up in good ways for your mood. I think that’s an encouraging message”, reported Dr. Choi.

This should be a great message to those who have been physically inactive for many years, or decades or perhaps… forever. You now have solid evidence that even a relatively low level of physical activity can go a long way to helping you live a longer, healthier and happier life.

Perhaps you will discover you feel so much better, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, you may want to increase your physical activity and feel even greater benefits.

Confucius says: “The Journey of one thousand miles begins with but a single step.”

To all IFPA Certified Personal  Trainers, you should use this study and the information it contains to help your personal training clients and potential clients, into taking that first step to helping everyone to live a longer, healthier and happier life.

I hope these tips help with anyone suffering from Depression or struggling with the additional stress the holidays bring. I wish you a very Happy Holiday Season filled with joy and happiness.

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