Post Holiday Mental Health: The 'January Blues' Are Real

This week marks the return to work for many who have had the luxury of some time off over the festive season. Feeling relaxed and recharged we’re heading back to our usual routines, with sleep-ins and lazy beach days just a distant memory.

The post-holiday blues has likely set in for some of us. With feelings of sadness that the fun (and the anticipation of it) seemingly over. We’re now relegated to dreaming about holidays through our tropical island screensaver and visualising ourselves on our next break.

With most people having travel on their resolution as well as their bucket lists, it’s suffice to say most of us enjoy being on holidays. We don’t need a reminder that having them is extremely beneficial for both our physical and mental health.

A holiday always “is just what we needed”, and we plan to recreate it all soon. But however relaxing or adventurous our holidays were, most of us get back to our normal routines once the holidays are over, and forget all about what we promised ourselves. When people are out of their usual routine and without their important roles attached to their identity, is often when people feel most alive.

But surely we shouldn't be feeling at our best only on holidays. After all, that’s only a few weeks a year. To sustain that holiday feeling, we need to be incorporating some of our recent holiday behaviours into our daily lives.

We can learn a lot from our holiday selves. It’s likely that we’re more physically active during the day, something that us office workers tend not to do. Whether exploring new jaunts, hiking in the rainforest, paddle boarding it down the beach or swimming in hotel pools, we tend to just move our body more.

When we’re on holiday we spend time doing things just because we want to, rather than what we feel we have to. Whether it’s enjoying an out-of-the-ordinary late night, a sunset, a long beach or a nap in a hammock, we do it because we simply feel like it.

We are generally more open to new experiences and tend to be more spontaneous on holiday. Shooting down waterslides, going fishing or parasailing during the week is not out of the question.

We tend to relax more on holiday, on purpose. Perhaps lying by a pool or sunning ourselves on a beach. Sitting in a café sipping coffee and reading the paper without rushing off to do something that is deemed more important.

We’re also likely to sleep more, allowing our brain and body to get the appropriate replenishing rest it often craves. We’re less likely to stare out our phone late into the night, as we are often more exhausted from what we got up to during the day.

When we go away we tend to engage with people a little more than usual. We often feel more connected to those around us. They get more of our attention and we give them more of ours. We can purposefully do that at home.

Often when we are away we get out of our usual dinner routine and indulge in different types of cuisines that we would never try at home. Indulging in new flavours and eating more fresh and healthy meals.

The crazy thing about all of this, is all of this can be done at home. We just need to build it into our life as though it’s important as getting that report completed, vacuuming the house and making lasagne on a Wednesday.

We all need to think about what we get up to when we’re on holiday, and try to bring a little more of it into our life whilst we’re back in our weekly work routine.

That way we’ll not only be looking forward to our next holiday, but also just enjoying right now.

This article was originally written on and was written by Dr Marny Lishman 

5 Tools and Tips for Navigating Stress When You’re Depressed

Not surprisingly, stress can have damaging effects on depression. That is, “stress hormones like cortisol can exacerbate the effects of an existing depression. Or if we’re not currently depressed, we can become more vulnerable to a future episode,” said Lee Coleman, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and assistant director and director of training at the California Institute of Technology’s student counseling center.

Depression also comes with its own stressors. We might become self-critical because we aren’t able to function normally, he said. (And because depression sinks our self-esteem and fuels our inner critic.)

We might wonder what’s wrong with us, why we aren’t as excited about life anymore, and when we’ll stop feeling so bad. As Coleman said, naturally, “all of these are potentially stressful thoughts and feelings.”

But this doesn’t mean that your situation is hopeless. It isn’t. In fact, there are many things you can do. Below, Coleman and other therapists who specialize in depression shared five ways to effectively navigate the stress in your life.

1. Assess every piece of your life.

Psychologist Stephanie Smith, PsyD, suggested examining everything and everyone in your life and asking yourself these questions: “How much do I enjoy this activity or person? How much stress does it bring me? How do I feel after I spend time there or with that person? Does [that activity or person] add to my life?”

In other words, take a step back, and reevaluate your relationships, routines, job and other circumstances. Smith also suggested asking these questions: “Is this really what I want? What’s really the best thing for me right now?”

“[I]t doesn’t necessarily mean that after the evaluation period you will change everything about your life. But it does mean that the things in your life will be more intentional.”


2. Make tiny healthy shifts.

When you’re struggling with depression, it might be tough to make big decisions and take big steps. Instead set small, specific and feasible goals, said Smith, who practices in Erie, Colo.

She shared these examples: Spend 10 minutes outside every day; make an appointment with a psychologist this week; reach out to one friend or relative today; take a walk four days out of seven; and do one thing you enjoy each day.

Taking small steps also provides momentum for making bigger changes in the future, she said. But if you don’t meet your goals, be gentle with yourself. Depending on the severity of your depression, it might be tough to take action (or get out of bed). That’s when working with a psychologist who specializes in treating depression is critical.


3. Redirect your attention.

“Depression and stress thrive on wandering minds, especially on questions that don’t really have an easy answer, like, ‘Why is this happening?’ ‘When will I feel like myself again?’” said Coleman, author of Depression: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed. Getting caught up in these questions releases stress hormones such as cortisol, and leads to feeling sadder, he said.

One way to redirect your attention is to focus on what you’re doing right now. For instance, give your full attention to mundane tasks and activities, such as walking, picking out produce and even breathing, Coleman said.

Another way is to redirect your attention to your physical sensations, he said. For instance, name what you’re experiencing: “Right now, my chest feels tight. I notice my jaw is tense, and my fists are balled up.”

Again, try not to get caught up in thoughts like “Why does this keep happening to me?” or “I can’t handle it!” he said. These thoughts only feed your stressful reactions. (And remember your depression likes to lie.) “Focusing on the physical aspects of stress keeps you grounded in the moment without adding that unhelpful second layer of negative appraisals.”

Don’t try to change the sensations you’re experiencing. Instead, try to keep a curious, accepting attitude. According to Coleman, this might look like: “OK, stress is here again.  Where am I feeling it in my body this time?”

4. Try mindfulness apps.

Mindfulness (and exercise) “can be extremely helpful in relieving symptoms and creating the endorphins your brain needs to feel better,” said Robin Starkey Harpster, MA, MFT, a psychotherapist in Los Angeles.

In addition to Coleman’s mindfulness suggestions, it can help to listen to guided meditations. Harpster recommended trying these three apps: buddhifyHeadspace; and Calm.

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5. Make a radical change.

Sometimes, drastic measures are necessary. Recently, author and Psych Central editor Therese Borchard penned this brilliant piece about what to do when your depression isn’t improving. For instance, it’s hard not to feel depressed when you’re working in a toxic environment. So, in this case, the best stress-reducing strategy might be to switch jobs. According to Borchard:

I don’t mean putting a few less to-do items on your list. I’m talking about radical lifestyle changes — like changing jobs in order to work in a less toxic and stressful environment, moving into a smaller home so that you don’t have to moonlight, deciding against adopting a rescue dog or having a third child. It can be practically impossible to keep your mood resilient if you are under chronic stress because it increases the connection between the hippocampus part of your brain and the amygdala (worry central), impairs your memory retention, affects your cortisol production (making it difficult for you to handle more stress), and weakens your immune system.


One of the most powerful tools for shrinking stress is treating yourself with patience and compassion. “You’re dealing with an illness that’s going to take some time to work through. And you can’t rush it by criticizing yourself or setting arbitrary deadlines for meeting certain goals,” Coleman said.

Plus, what you’re able to accomplish really depends on the severity of your depression. Don’t hesitate to seek professional support from a psychologist. And be flexible with yourself and remember that the smallest steps do add up, Coleman said.


This article originally appeared on and was written by By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. 

6 Benefits of Massage Therapy

Sure, it can help you relax. But massage therapy can do much more than that. Here are six healthy reasons to book an appointment.

1) It counteracts all that sitting you do

“Most individuals are dealing with some kind of postural stress,” says Aaron Tanason, registered massage therapist, kinesiologist and owner at Paleolife Massage Therapy in Toronto. “More often than not [that stress] tends to manifest in the shoulders and neck.”

Desk workers, beware. More advanced forms of postural stress “show up as pain or weakness in the low back and gluteals caused by prolonged periods of sitting.”

Luckily, massage can counteract the imbalance caused from sitting, which means you can keep your desk job-as long as you schedule a regular massage.

2) It eases muscle pain

Got sore muscles? Massage therapy can help. “Massage increases and improves circulation. Just like rubbing your elbow when you knock it on a table helps to relieve the pain,” says Tanason.

A 2011 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that massage therapy is as effective as other methods of treatment for chronic back pain.

3) It soothes anxiety and depression

“Human touch, in a context that is safe, friendly and professional, can be incredibly therapeutic and relaxing,” says Tanason.

Women diagnosed with breast cancer who received massage therapy three times a week reported being less depressed and less angry, according to a 2005 study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience.

And, a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, found that patients who were depressed and anxious were much more relaxed and happy, and had reduced stress levels after massage.

4) It improves sleep

Not only can massage encourage a restful sleep-it also helps those who can’t otherwise comfortably rest.

“Massage promotes relaxation and sleep in those undergoing chemo or radiation therapy,” says Lisa Marie de Miranda, registered massage therapist and kinesiologist at Paleolife Massage Therapy.

Also, massages help infants sleep more, cry less and be less stressed, according to research from the University of Warwick.

“Most RMTs can do infant massage,” says de Miranda. And if parents want to do it themselves, it comes naturally. “There’s not really a particular technique. Whatever parents normally do to soothe their baby will be effective.”

5) It boosts immunity

A 2010 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that massage boosts patients’ white blood cell count (which plays a large role in defending the body from disease). Additionally, it also “improves immune function for individuals with HIV,” says de Miranda.

6) It relieves headaches

Next time a headache hits, try booking a last-minute massage. “Massage decreases frequency and severity of tension headaches,” says de Miranda.

Research from Granada University in Spain found that a single session of massage therapy immediately effects perceived pain in patients with chronic tension headaches.

This article originally appeared on Best Health & was written by Katharine Watts.


Acupuncture Benefits Sleep, Reduces Stress

Acupuncture successfully improves sleep quality and reduces both stress and depression in the elderly. Published in Neuroscience Letters, researchers made this determination based on a randomized, placebo-controlled study. The researchers note that “the rigorous methodology employed in this study ensured the reliability of the results concerning the improved sleep quality and relaxation effects involved with acupuncture during aging.” 

Acupuncture significantly improved the Pittsburg sleep quality index (PSQI) scores, indicating substantial sleep quality improvements. In addition, beck depression inventory (BDI) and the perceived stress scale (PSS) measures demonstrated significant clinical improvements. True acupuncture demonstrated significant positive patient outcomes for improvements in sleep quality and reduction of both depression and stress. The researchers note, “No significant changes were observed in the placebo group.” The researchers add that the strict controls employed during the study “demonstrate the real effects of acupuncture.”

Acupuncture was applied to elderly patients in a hospital outpatient setting. Licensed acupuncturists applied the acupuncture needles while patients rested in a supine position on a stretcher. Acupuncture was applied at a rate of twice per week for a total of 25 minutes of needle retention time per treatment session. Each patient received a grand total of 10 acupuncture treatments. Sterile disposable acupuncture needles were applied to acupuncture points:

  • SP6 (Sanyinjiao)
  • LI4 (Hegu)
  • ST36 (Zusanli)
  • LV3 (Taichong)
  • PC6 (Neiguan)
  • Ex-NH3 (Yintang)

Manual needle stimulation was applied to the needles frequently during each acupuncture treatment session. For the placebo-controlled sham acupuncture group, acupuncture needles were applied to areas of the body not associated with classic acupuncture points as defined by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In addition, the placebo-controlled group’s needles were applied to a superficial depth without needle stimulation.

The acupuncture point prescription choice was similar to a prescription in a related study. The researchers note that Sun et al. used acupuncture points including ST36, SP6, PC6, and LV3 in an investigation of acupuncture’s effects on major depressive disorder (MDD). The researchers note that Sun et al. “found similar antidepressant effects of electroacupuncture (EA) as compared to fluoxetine-treated patients.” Fluoxetine is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant medication. It is also known by its trade names including Prozac and Sarafem.

The researchers add that electroacupuncture “had a faster onset of action, better response rate, and better improvement rate than fluoxetine, indicating that acupuncture can be a good intervention method for ameliorating psychological distress and depressive symptoms, thereby promoting relaxation and well-being.” Although there were similarities to Sun et al., the sleep researchers employed manual acupuncture stimulation whereas Sun et al. employed electroacupuncture. This contrast demonstrates that both electroacupuncture and manual acupuncture have therapeutic value in the treatment of depression. 

The researchers note that additional studies are required to investigate the effects of acupuncture on the process of immunosenescence, the process of immune system of deterioration due to aging. 

They cite research demonstrating that “adequate sleep helps fight infection and improves immunity after vaccinations” and “increased sleep duration was associated with increased number of circulating immune cells.” The current study demonstrates that acupuncture benefits sleep in the elderly. This suggests potential benefits to overall immune system function. As a result, the researchers call for studies to investigate the impact of acupuncture on immunity in the elderly.

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