Second Wind

How to keep pace with the marathon of life

Running Away from the Holiday Blues

Strategies for those of us who struggle through the season

Some people love the holiday season.

I'm happy for those folks and try not to ruin their fun as I slog through November and December.  Like many others, I have my own reasons for finding the winter/holiday months difficult, which include but are not limited to: short, dark, cold, rainy days  that often make getting outside miserable; the busy-ness and, thus, decreased availability of friends who bring joy into my life the rest of the year; the tiresome dance between trying to find meaning in holiday activities and caving in to the seemingly obligatory participation in mass-consumerism; and last, but not least, sad memories of holidays past that creep into my awareness even after years of therapy and significant healing.

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Over the years, I've developed some strategies to get me through these psychically (and literally) dark months. It's the marathon that has taught me these techniques, and I have to believe they'll work for others. In a 26.2-mile race, the last few miles can feel grueling. Unlike the first miles, when a runner feels her strongest, the last miles break her down, just as the last months of the year tax the verve right out of many of us.

When mile 20 comes along and a runner realizes she has 6.2 miles remaining, she won't make it unless she's prepared for this last part of the race in a few important ways. Here's how the last miles of a long race translate for me into practical life.

1. Don't think of the distance you need to go as one big chunk. Each mile is traversed by a series of steps. This is true for the winter/holiday season as well. Just as you can only get from the starting line of a race to the finish line of the same race one little footfall at a time, so you must think of winter as a series of days--even hours, if you need to break it down further. It may seem counterintuitive, but I try not to plan too far ahead for meeting the obligations that come with the holidays. This way, I don't spend weeks and weeks fretting and anxious.

2.  Fuel up. This is my advice for almost everything, but particularly with regard to getting ready for winter. Fueling during the dark season means doing EVERYTHING my body needs for good health. For you it may include some of the following: Taking your vitamin D, getting extra sleep, eating your fruits and vegetables, moving your body even when you feel sluggish, drinking plenty of water, and  taking prescribed anti-depressants if your doctor advises this. Depression, even the seasonal kind, happens to the body as much as it happens to the mind. Give your body what it needs.

3. Cut back on alcohol consumption. I love a glass of wine as much as the next gal, but before a race, I'm careful to cut back. Alcohol depresses the body's responses and saps it dry. During the holidays, most people drink more than usual as they attend parties and celebrations, but this will only aggravate the doldrums. Cutting back on alcohol will actually help you fight your seasonal depression.

4. Take mini-breaks. In running, a very short (even 30-second) walk break can give the body a chance to recuperate enough to get back to race pace feeling refreshed. During winter, breaks from the crazed frantic holiday chaos and/or a dark-induced sense of oppression can include anything that allows you to breathe and rest. Every winter, I like to take a long weekend down in Arizona. My husband and I stay with his mother in her senior citizen community. It's the perfect juxtaposition to the dark days of the Pacific Northwest. If you can't get away, take a sauna at a local spa, go see a movie that makes you laugh, or do anything that, for even a couple of hours, relieves the holiday pressure that builds up inside of you.

I truly am heartened by the way some people dive into the season with joy, thankfulness, and a spirit of giving! But for those of us for whom these months are an annual struggle, let's take a page from the Tired Marathoner Book and just get through it without injury so we can look back knowing we did the best we could to take care of ourselves.

Cami Ostman, M.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Washington State and the author of Second Wind: One Woman's Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents. more...

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