By ABCS RCM
The holiday season is seen as a time of celebration and happiness. Yet, for some people, the holiday season is a time of stress and anxious feelings. All of the activity that surrounds the holidays is seen as a chore or unwanted obligation. These feelings of sadness or anger can become more intense when contrasted with the joy that people are expected to feel. There is even an expression for these feelings, the holiday blues.
A number of seasonal factors can trigger these feelings such as, reduced sunlight, changes in diet, altered routines or the inability to be with friends or family. Other factors spring from shopping for gifts, travel, office parties, etc. Interestingly, the biggest sources of holiday stress for many people are related to family issues and demands. These can arise from dinners, traditions and other family obligations. All of these factors can seriously affect a person’s mood.
An end result of having the holiday blues is that this time of year does not fill some people with cheer. The assumption that family holiday gatherings are supposed to be joyful and stress-free can make people feel worse about themselves. In reality, family relationships create complicated dynamics. For people who are experiencing clinical depression, or have had depressive episodes in the past, holiday stress can trigger serious problems.
People may feel pressure to be happy and outwardly jolly during the holidays. Family and societal expectations can create tension. Unrealistic or high expectations are often difficult to meet, which creates a pattern of negative feelings. If people try too hard to be happy, they can sometimes make themselves feel even more miserable. At the end of day, this external stress can make people feel more anxious in general.
Beyond the planning for the holidays, there are a number of factors that can make individuals feel more anxious. Some of the factors that may contribute to holiday anxiety and depression include:
* Associating the holidays with unresolved family issues.
* In order to appear happy, people ignore feelings of sadness, loneliness, or depression.
* Facing the loss of a loved one with whom holidays were shared in the past.
There is no perfect list of strategies for managing the stress of the holidays. However, there are some general guidelines that people can follow which will greatly reduce their stress level. The following list was generated by the American Psychological Association (APA). Although far from complete, this list is a good starting point for dealing with excessive holiday stress, anxiety and depression.
 Track Your Finances: Understanding and managing spending is a useful tool and will reduce some anxiety. People should maintain a daily list of their spending. People should brainstorm ways to reduce their expenditures and then follow the plan. This may create anxiety in the short term, but in the long term it will pay off.
 Connection of Stress and Money: The lack of money can sometimes create conflicts between couples and families. This financial anxiety may motivate people to relieve their stress by engaging in unhealthy activities such as alcohol/drug use, gambling or emotional eating.
 Make a Holiday "To-Do" List: If people are afraid that they will forget to complete some important holiday tasks, they should make a to-do list. The list can be written on paper or created in a digital format, with tasks marked in order of importance. Not only will this list reduce the risk of forgetting something, but it will provide an additional level of focus.
 Stay Healthy: Holiday stress is more manageable when people eat healthy meals, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water and maintain a regular exercise program. When people do this, their bodies can better weather the effects of stress. At the very least, taking the time to read a good book, taking a short walk or listening to some favorite music can do wonders.
Remember What is Important:
People need to remind themselves what is important for them during the holiday season. By setting realistic expectations for gifts and holiday activities. Instead of trying to take on everything, identify the most important holiday tasks and take small steps in order to accomplish them.
The overall goal during the holiday season is to stay grounded. When individuals take time for themselves, they can feel less pressured to be everything to everyone. As the American Psychological Association points out, sometimes self-care is one of the best things people can do for themselves. They will benefit from activities that make them feel less anxious and depressed.
Everyone eventually needs to reflect and focus on the present. This act alone will help people be mindful and in the present rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. If feelings of depression persist and start to negatively impact people’s quality of life, they should seek help from a trained mental health professional. They should not be ashamed or feel like they have to go it alone.
For additional questions about holiday-related stress, as well as other mental health issue, contact the staff at Providers for Healthy Living. They have multiple office locations in Central Ohio. Their behavioral and mental health programs provide a full range of treatment options for both children and adults. Since 2011, their clinical team’s focus is on achieving and maintaining good mental health.
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