Not So Merry? Coping with Holiday Stress and Depression

Holidays can be filled with joy, laughter, family and good friends. But for some, the holidays bring on additional stress and seasonal “blues”. The additional demands that the holidays bring – parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name a few - can peak stress levels and take an emotional toll. The commercialization of the holidays barrages us with unrealistic expectations to have the “picture perfect” holiday season. This can put added stress on finances and can leave people feeling inadequate when perceived expectations are not met. The holidays are especially difficult when feelings of sadness, loneliness, depression and anxiety are the opposite of the “Hallmark” images we see all around us.

Though the holidays can be difficult, Mental Health America recommends several ways to cope with added stress and holiday blues.

  1. Keep expectations for the holiday season manageable, be realistic about what you can and cannot do. For example, consider making an agreement to limit the amount of money spent on gifts when exchanging them with loved ones.
  2. Remember the holiday season does not banish reasons for feeling sad or lonely; there is room for these feelings to be present, even if one chooses not to express them.
  3. Try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a new way. One possibility is, if dreary, overcast weather makes you blue, consider heading where the sun is shining, such as the foothills, to raise your spirits.
  4. Spend time with supportive and caring people. Reach out and make new friends or connect with someone you haven’t heard from in a while.
  5. Leave “yesteryear” in the past and look toward the future. Life brings changes. Each season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Don’t set yourself up in comparing today with the “good old days.”
  6. Save time for yourself! Schedule time for yourself to relax and recharge your batteries.

“I see the holidays as a time for celebration and reflection, a time to cherish our families, friends, and people around us,” says Xiong Glen, Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center Medical Director. “To help maintain mental health wellness, find ways to give back and participate in your community.” We often experience joy when we give to others, even when the gift is as small and cost-free as a genuine compliment or demonstration of appreciation for another’s presence.

The holiday season can be especially hard on the elderly and children, particularly those who are separated from family and loved ones. With the added social commitments and extra time demands that the holidays bring, it’s easy to lose track of routines and miss out spending quality time with children. “The holidays can be very exciting and fun for children but also difficult as daily routines are disrupted,” says Robert Horst, Sacramento County Child Adolescent Psychiatric Support Medical Director. “Keeping time schedules and rules consistent during the holidays can be very helpful in decreasing this stress.”

Don’t let the stress of this season make the holidays something you dread. Take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can come during the holidays. With some positive thinking and a little planning, you can find peace and joy during the holiday season.

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