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3 ways holiday traditions may help you handle the holiday blues

In this episode of "Health Fusion," Viv Williams gets tips on how to handle the holiday blues from a University of Minnesota expert and learns lessons from — believe it or not — the Elf on a Shelf.

Festive mother and daughter decorating Christmas tree at home
Be on the lookout for holiday moments that bring joy.
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ROCHESTER — Sometimes the holiday season is just not fair. Everyone seems to be full of happiness and cheer, except for you. But many of those people are likely feeling the blues, too. The University of Minnesota (UMN) cites a survey that shows 88% of Americans report feeling stressed out this time of year.

For tips that may help calm stress and reduce sadness, I consulted two sources. Mariann Johnson , a UMN mindfulness and well-being instructor in the Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing, and the Elf on a Shelf, a sneaky yet lovable holiday toy tradition.

In all seriousness, holiday stress and sadness can be dangerous for your mental and physical health. And after reading about Johnson's thoughts on how to handle seasonal stress and sadness, I determined that the elf (or other holiday traditions) could be tools to help you remember the tips Johnson offers.

Tip No. 1 has to do with actively keeping an eye out for things that make you happy. Just as a child will be on the lookout for that darned elf's hiding places, you can be on the hunt for a glimpse of something that brings joy, contentment of happiness.

"When you experience these emotions, recognize them, say hello, and offer them a seat to rest in," says Johnson. "Notice how you experience these positive emotions in your body, heart and mind. It doesn’t matter what the experience may be — whether it’s being in the company of those you love, experiencing the beauty of new-fallen snow or the successful completion of a project. What does matter is that you notice it and you savor these moments. It’s easy for us to recognize the mistakes, the things that go wrong and to not even recognize what brings us joy or feelings of contentment. This time of year, remember to be on the lookout for the good in your life."

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Tip No. 2 is about mindfulness. When you notice and acknowledge things that spark happiness, you're being mindful, which means you're living in the moment. Kids are great at that. When they're looking for those elves, they are laser-focused. The whole experience may only last a few minutes, but the positive effects of that brief encounter may last a long time.

"It’s the little things that may matter the most," says Johnson. "Periodically carving out two to three minutes during your day to mindfully pause can make a real difference."

Johnson says mindful pauses could include deep breathing, stretching, savoring a warm cup of tea, petting your dog and other ordinary things for which you're grateful.

Tip No. 3 features connecting to others. That sneaky little elf may only be a toy, but it represents much more, such as love, family and friends.

"We are social-relational beings; we need each other to support and sustain our emotional resilience and well being," says Johnson. "For many the holidays can be an especially lonely and challenging time. This holiday season, don’t be afraid to offer and to receive the gift of human kindness and caring."

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, sadness around the holidays results in true depression. If it disrupts your life, seek medical help. And if you feel helpless or have thoughts of suicide, call 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline .

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Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple,   Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at  vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

MORE HEALTH FUSION:
When arctic blasts plummet temperatures, stepping outside can be dangerous. In this Health Fusion episode, Viv Williams talks to a researcher about what intensely cold air could do to anyone's lungs.

Opinion by Viv Williams
Viv Williams hosts the NewsMD podcast and column, "Health Fusion." She is an Emmy (and other) award-winning health and medical reporter whose stories have run on TV, digital and newspaper outlets nationwide. Viv is passionate about boosting people's health and happiness by helping them access credible, reliable and research-based health information from top experts. She regularly interviews experts and patients from leading medical institutions, such as Mayo Clinic.
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