Managing Depression and Stress During the Holidays

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Managing Depression and Stress During the Holidays

Managing Depression and Stress during the Holidays

By Debbie Rasso, LMHC, NCC, CAPHoliday-Stress

Holidays are filled with emotions. Not all of them are good.  For many people, the holidays can be less than joyful. Common feelings that arise during the holidays are depression and anxiety (aka stress).

There are many challenges at this time of year. The emphasis on shopping can bring financial stress. Holidays also are the time when families get together, including those that don’t get along.  If you have lost a loved one, holidays bring up grief and loss issues. Many people over extend themselves by agreeing to do more than they can handle. All of these factors can lead a person to feel sadness and stress.  Common symptoms include headaches, overeating, insomnia and excessive drinking.

Lately, the holidays seem to start earlier (can anyone say “Merry Halloween?”) which extends the time that a person experiences stress and/or depression.  Contrary to popular belief, the suicide rate goes down during the holidays; however, it increases as much as 40% when the New Year starts. This is often due to post-holiday stress, fatigue and feelings of disappointment if the holidays did not live up to expectations or brought too much “drama”.  It is important to reduce the stress and depression now rather than to suffer the consequences later.

So what can you do to reduce the risk? Here are a few simple tips:

  1. Increase your social support network so you are not isolated. This can be done by attending support groups, calling friends or volunteering.
  2. Set realistic goals for yourself. Learn to say “No”, so that you don’t overextend yourself.
  3. Acknowledge your feelings and don’t force yourself to feel something that isn’t there. Grieve if you need to. You don’t have to feel happy just because “Joy to the World” is playing.
  4. Try to be more tolerant of others. Remember that they are feeling the stress of the holidays too. Don’t take things personally. Try to set aside differences during the holidays. Also, you should limit the time you spend with people you don’t get along with.
  5. Make sure that you maintain healthy habits. Get plenty of rest, try to get 20 minutes of sunlight and fresh air daily, exercise regularly and watch your calorie and alcohol intake. Remember, alcohol is a depressant. It may feel like it is improving your mood, but it has the side effect of making you feel worse.
  6. Take time for self-care. Relax and read a book, get a massage, listen to quiet music, do some mindfulness meditation. Don’t volunteer to have the holiday gathering at your house! Let someone else be the host.
  7. Focus on the good memories. Nostalgia has been proven to have remarkable positive psychological benefits.
  8. Seek professional help. If after trying all of the above, you still find yourself fighting depression, lacking energy, struggling with sleep, or feeling helpless or hopeless, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.