Holiday Stress and Depression
As we roll into the holidays, some of us may be in for a bumpy ride. Holidays are typically seen as a time of joy and celebration. However, for many individuals, it actually may be a time of increased anxiety, sadness, stress, and loneliness during the holiday season.
While some are excited to spend time with family and loved ones, others may have nobody to celebrate with. Some may be grieving the loss of a loved one, or longing to be in a loving relationship. Adding in the extra anxieties and burdens caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the holiday season may look very different for many families and individuals.
There are a number of sources of stress throughout the wintry months that may cause you to experience changes in your mental and physical health. Whether it be from loneliness or grieving a loved one, or increased financial strain, or managing the expectations created by over-commercialization of the holidays, or the physically daunting task of waking up and commuting to work in total darkness, you may start to undergo various symptoms of holiday stress.
Head and body aches
Changes in appetite
Changes in sleep patterns
Increased fatigue and tiredness
Loss of interest or pleasure
in things you used to enjoy
There are many factors that are causing your body to exhibit responses to stress. The holiday blues, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and stress responses are your body’s reaction to the various hurdles being thrown at you throughout the season. While everyone’s responses to the holidays and changing seasons may vary, there are some common sources of stress.
Separation from loved ones
Excessive eating or alcohol use
Darker mornings and shorter days
Almost all of us are stressed around the holidays, but following a few helpful tips can help you have a more mindful and balanced season this year. Whether you need to incorporate more realistic expectations or have more self compassion, there are some strategies for managing the most common problems the holidays can cause.
HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS: Far too often, we put an inordinate amount of pressure on ourselves to have the “perfect holiday.” Take energy out of worrying and put that energy into enjoying your time around friends and family. Life and traditions may change, but the holiday can still be enjoyed (e.g., If you can’t be with loved ones this year, video chat with them often and discuss old holiday memories). It is ok to have a range of complex emotions, you don’t have to force yourself to feel happy all the time. It can be ok to miss someone.
PLAN AHEAD: It can be overwhelming to visit each family, friend, class party, etc. Make sure you keep an active calendar, so you can stay ahead of potentially stressful situations like overbooking or forgetting to purchase a gift. Setting calendar reminders on your phone is an easy solution to forgetting any of your holiday plans.
SETTING BOUNDARIES: The holiday season can be a busy time with many asking of your time and resources, whether it be juggling many holiday party invites or fielding an abundance of volunteering and giving opportunities. These all may be great experiences, however, it is ok to set your limits and say “no” to things. Ask yourself: am I doing these out of obligation or guilt? Will I feel resentful if I do it? Will I feel drained afterwards?
BE KIND TO YOURSELF: Make time for the little things that keep you happy, calm, and healthy. Some examples are: Carve out fifteen minutes of mindfulness meditation in the morning, exercise, enjoy a nature walk, sit and read a book, and get quality sleep. Staying healthy and on a regulated sleep schedule is so important during a stressful time of year. The holidays can be a time of overcommitment, it’s ok to pause and take time for yourself.
BUDGET: Don’t wait until the last minute to do all of your holiday shopping with one paycheck. Buy as you go, and make note of each of your purchases so you stay on track financially. Be realistic about what your family can and cannot afford, and be aware of how your spending will affect you financially after the holiday is over. Think creatively, there can be ways to enjoy the holidays without breaking the bank (e.g., go around town seeing the holiday decorations, sledding, make a seasonal craft together)
KEEP HEALTHY HABITS: There’s nothing wrong with having an extra cookie here and there, but abandoning your regular diet for one filled with sweets, treats, and other hearty holiday foods isn’t healthy for your mind or body. Carrying healthy snacks with you, packing a balanced lunch, and continuing to exercise are a few ways you can stay on track. On the other hand, don’t get too anxious and focus too much on avoiding foods that you avoid situations that are meaningful to you. If you value social connection, prioritize that, over avoiding the party completely.
PERMISSION TO ASK FOR HELP: With so many demands on us during the holiday season, it’s ok to ask for assistance. Asking a loved one for help is a way they can also show care and support to you. Seeking out counseling can also be a form of self-care as you allow yourself time to focus on your needs and hopes.
The holidays are stressful for everyone, especially in the scary world we are currently living in. Don’t beat yourself and isolate, reach out to a therapist who can help you battle the holiday blues and allow you to enjoy yourself this season. Seeking a therapist at Everwell Health and Counseling Services can help you achieve peace and harmony throughout the holidays.