Not everyone shares in the celebration and joy associated with the holidays. Many people feel stressed, anxious, and unhappy in response to the demands of shopping for gifts, spending large amounts of money, attending parties and family gatherings, and entertaining. It is not uncommon for individuals to react to these stressors with excessive drinking and eating, experiencing difficulty sleeping, and overall physical complaints. If you experience reactions like these during the holidays, you are not alone. Let's take a look at what causes the holiday stress and what you can do about them.
What Causes the Holiday Stress?
Fear of disappointing others. Some people fear disappointing their loved ones during the holidays. Even though they can't afford to spend a lot on money on gifts, some people feel so obligated to come through with a fancy gift that they spend more than they can afford. Consider beginning to develop healthy boundaries with yourself and others, knowing each person is responsible for their feelings. Believe it or not you are not powerful enough to make anyone else feel disappointment, sadness, happiness, or any other emotion. Each and every person is responsible for how they feel.
Expecting gifts to improve relationships. Giving someone a nice present won't necessarily strengthen a friendship or romantic relationship. When your gifts don't produce the reactions you had hoped for you may feel let down. Focus on the Reason for the Season, celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Anniversary reactions. If someone important to you passed away or left you during a past holiday season, you may become depressed or anxious as the anniversary date approaches. Be thankful for the time you had together, establish new traditions, and spend time helping others.
Bad Memories. For some families, the holidays are times of chaos and confusion. This is especially true in families where people have substance abuse problems or dysfunctional ways of relating to each other. If this was true in your family in past years, you may always carry memories of the disappointment and upheaval that came with the holidays. Even though things may be better, it is difficult to forget the time when your holidays were ruined by substance abuse and family dysfunction. Take the time this holiday season to pray for and forgive others that have hurt you. Not forgiving only hurts you, after all you are carrying the burden.
It could be SAD. People who live in northern states may experience depression during the winter because of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD results from fewer hours of sunlight as the days grow shorter during the winter months. Have your vitamin D levels checked by your physician and discuss how you have been feeling.
Strategies for Dealing with the Holiday Stress
While holiday stress is usually temporary, these ideas can help make this year's holiday experience more pleasant and less stressful.
Be realistic. Don't expect this holiday season to be "perfect" and solve any past problems. The forced cheerfulness of the holiday season cannot ward off sadness or loneliness.
Avoid Alcohol or Drink less. Even though drinking alcohol gives you a temporary feeling of well-being, it is a depressant and never makes anything better.
Give yourself permission not to feel cheerful for awhile. Accept how you are feeling. If you have recently experienced a loss, you can't expect yourself to put on a happy face. Tell others how you are feeling and what you need. Sometimes being around people who care about you really helps, you may have to limit your time, but it does help.
Have a spending limit and stick to it. Look for holiday activities that are free such as driving around to look at holiday decorations. Go window-shopping without purchasing anything. Look for ways to show people you care without spending a lot.
Look for sources of support. Learn about offerings at mental health centers, churches, and synagogues. Many of these have special support groups, workshops, and other activities designed to help people deal with holiday stress.
Give yourself tender loving care. Schedule times to relax and pamper yourself. Take a warm bath or spend an evening with a good book. Play soft music and light some candles.
Set limits and priorities. Be realistic about what you will be able to accomplish. Prepare a to-do list to help you arrange your priorities. Remember "perfect" doesn't exist.
Volunteer your time. If you are troubled because you won't be seeing your family, volunteer to work at a your local church, hospital, or food bank. Volunteering can help raise your spirits by turning your focus on helping others.
Get some exercise. Exercise has a positive impact on depression, stress, anxiety, and sleep patterns. You don't have to go to the gym, exercise for hours, or lift weights. There is no special equipment to buy or set time you have to exercise, just walk. Ideally, twenty minutes of brisk walking daily should improve minor depression, stress, anxiety, and sleep in about two weeks. Of course, you should always check with your primary care physician prior to beginning any exercise program.
After the Holidays
For some people, holiday stress may continue into the new year. This is often caused by leftover feelings of disappointment during the holiday season and being physically exhausted. The blues also happen for some because the start of a new year is a time of reflection on what they didn't accomplish, which can produce anxiety. Instead, in 2017 focus on goal setting, then engage with Sue Parker or Heather Baxter as your Personal Coach to help meet your goals.
Is it More than Just the Holiday Stress?
Clinical depression is more than just feeling sad for a few weeks. The symptoms generally include changes in appetite and sleep patterns, having less interest in daily activities, difficulty concentrating, and a general feeling of hopelessness.
Clinical depression requires professional treatment. If you are concerned that a friend or relative may be suffering from more than just holiday blues, you should express your concerns. If the person expresses thoughts of worthlessness or suicide, it is important to seek the help of a qualified mental health professional or local hospital emergency room staff.