The holidays are “supposed” to be a time full of joy, good cheer, and optimism, but many people experience increased depression, stress, and anxiety during this time of year–in fact, every holiday season there is a 15% increase in the number of people seeking professional help with depression. The increased demands of parties, shopping and family reunions can exacerbate our already existing tensions. Even people who do not normally become depressed can experience stress reactions during this time such as headaches, excessive drinking, over-eating, and having difficulty sleeping.
Here are a few ways that the National Mental Health Association recommends identifying potential sources of seasonal depression and help you cope with “holiday blues:”
- Keep your expectations for the holiday season manageable by trying not to make it “the best you’ve ever had.” Set realistic goals for yourself, pace yourself and organize your time. Make a list and prioritize the most important activities. Do not spend too much time preparing for just one day.
- Remember that the holiday season does not automatically banish reasons for feeling sad or lonely; there is room for these feelings to be present, even if a person chooses not to express them.
- Let go of the past! Do not be disappointed if your holidays are not like they used to be. Life brings changes. Each holiday season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. You can set yourself up for sadness if everything must be just like “the good old days.” Look forward to the future.
- Do something for someone else. Try volunteering to help others. We often feel better about ourselves when we are helping others.
- Enjoy the “free” holiday activities—like driving around to look at Christmas decorations or going widow shopping without buying anything.
- Do not drink too much. Excessive drinking will only make you more depressed.
- Spend time with people who are supportive and care about you. Make new friends if you are alone during this time. Connect with someone you have lost touch with.
- Find time for yourself! Do not spend all your time providing activities for your family and friends. Take as much time as you need to wind down and enjoy yourself.
Recent studies have shown that there may be environmental factors that can contribute to feelings of depression around the holidays: Some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which can results from the fewer hours of sunlight as days grow shorter during the winter months. Exposure to early morning or mid-afternoon sunlight may alleviate this type of depression.
In general, people ask the holidays to do too much for them. They want to strengthen family bonds, lift spirits from the dark days of winter, confirm their deepest religious beliefs–the list goes on! While most of us share these values, it is too much to expect of a holiday, much less of ourselves! The following exercise may help you clarify your intentions for the holidays. Number the following statements from 1 to 10.
Remember, there are no right or wrong answers.
___ The holidays are a time to be a peacemaker, within the family and the world at large.
___ The holidays are a time to enjoy being with my immediate family.
___ The holidays are a time to create a beautiful home environment
___ The holidays are a time to exchange gifts with family and friends.
___ The holidays are a time for a deep religious experience.
___ The holidays are a time for parties, entertaining and visits with friends.
___ The holidays are a time to help those less fortunate.
___ The holidays are a time to strengthen bonds with my relatives.
___ The holidays are a time to strengthen my community.
___ The holidays are a time to be relaxed and renewed.
This values clarification exercise may help you decide which parts of the holidays are most deserving of your efforts and then celebrate in a way that is in harmony with your deepest beliefs. By turning our focus on what holds the most meaning for us during this season, we create an atmosphere of faith, hope and love, rather than depression, anxiety, or stress.
Best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season!
Linda Dunbar, LPC
Photo: David Lee, creative commons license