Get out and get moving to help climb out of holiday depression

Typically this time of year I tend to write about all the good things about the holidays and all the positive things we can all do with our families. I stand by all the advice I’ve given, but this year I want to discuss the elephant in the room: holiday depression. As much as many of us would like to shrug it off, the truth is that depression this time of year is very real.

There can be any number of triggers that bring it on: stress in spending money you don’t have; missing relatives who are no longer with us; spending time with people you don’t want to see; feeling hopeless; or a combination of these things. Folks who are suffering from clinical depression may feel an exacerbation of anxiety and sadness from a pre-existing condition, but others go through this illness during holiday time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

Pictured with this article is one of my clients, Justin, who plays basketball when he needs to clear his mind and get a little exercise.

You all know my feelings about the importance of exercise and the role it can take in our mental and physical well-being. In the case of holiday sadness, combining the mental with the physical can make a huge difference. For example, in the morning take deep breaths and focus on either clearing your mind or on a memory that’s bound to make you smile. Taking deep breaths relieves stress and triggers relaxation.

The next thing is utilizing the outdoors. Taking a walk during the morning or the day will provide sunlight and cool air, the combination of which increases endorphins, allowing us to feel better and bring us a little happiness. Jogging or running will additionally help by increasing the heart rate, burning calories, and relieving additional stress.

Exercises that make you think

Another important activity is doing exercises that require us to use our brain. For instance, doing multiple exercises in a circuit like squat and press, kettlebell swings, and barbell presses requires our brains to stay aware and in the moment. The act of using our brains can relieve stress and give us purpose. In context, if we compare doing exercises like those I mentioned to simply running on a treadmill, you can see how easily it would be for our minds to wander during the treadmill exercise, versus keeping our brains sharp during compound exercises.

Including active rest is also important. Active rest is typically light exercises that don’t directly involve specific muscle groups. In the general sense, vacuuming, cleaning the house, raking the lawn, doing construction around the house are all examples of active rest. In the holiday sense, this could be delivering meals to the homeless, spending the day walking and talking with someone who is all alone, or collecting canned goods for those in need. Obtaining a sense of purpose and helping others are good ways to combat holiday depression.

Another thing that can help is strength training. Doing light resistance training with dumbbells and body weight can improve our bodily strength as well as our mental strength.

Yoga is another exercise that helps depression. Many of you know how I feel about yoga. Its benefits can never be overstated. It protects the body from injury, increases flexibility and strength; and improves respiration, energy, and vitality. Yoga can also help with weight loss and keeping a good and balanced metabolism.

Have the courage to help yourself or someone else

There really are a number of different ways for us to help ourselves and those we know who are suffering from holiday sadness. For anyone whose depression is more severe, assistance from your doctor, which may include taking specific prescriptions and working with a therapist or counselor, is the proper way to go. That doesn’t exclude exercise, as many doctors would still want you doing light to moderate exercise.

The holidays are a wonderful time of year. Imagine it without all the sales marketing, “It’s a Wonderful Life” type movies, and dozens of people you know talking about presents and shopping. Different right? Stripped down to just basics: being around people you love, sharing a meal, celebrating your religion in its purest sense, being happy to be alive and see a new year arrive, it can be beautiful. But the reality is that the trappings of what we know as the modern day holiday can be suffocating to a lot of people.

Having the courage to help ourselves or help someone else is probably one of the best spirits of the holidays that I love. In the words of Aristotle, “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.”

I know the mere act of reading this article will make a difference in someone’s life. I believe that. I wish you all a wonderful and joyous holiday.

Michael Shaw is a certified master fitness trainer and sports performance nutrition specialist with Above and Beyond Physiques, owner of Shaw Fitness LLC, a member of the Maryland Advisory Council on Physical Fitness, and a fitness and fashion model manager. You can schedule to meet him at Snap Fitness in Middletown or reach him at