It may be promoted as the most wonderful time of the year, but there’s no doubt that the holiday season can easily be the most stressful. Winter sees many religions celebrating major festivals, and whether you are celebrating Christmas or Chanukah, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, Kwanza or Diwali, many things are universal. High expectations can set us on a slippery path that isn’t just caused by cold weather.
“We tend to have a romantic view where happy families enjoy each other’s company and we all receive perfect gifts, but the stress of that can derail us,” says clinical social worker Julie Caron Sims ACSW, LCSW. “The Mayo clinic suggests starting to plan around Halloween. Look at what you did last year and see what worked well and what didn’t. It’s ok to change traditions.”
The holidays are a time when people come together, but it’s important to remember that everyone has different challenges.
“We often go home for the holidays but remember you recreate the relationships that were always there,” Caron Sims said, “that can be good or bad.”
If you’re concerned about the stresses of the season, here are some basic tips to keep your holidays happy.
- Organize yourself in advance and tick things off your list as you accomplish them. If you’re hosting the family meal remember you can ask guests to bring dishes, particularly if they have special dietary requirements.
- Even though you’re busy make sure you get enough exercise. Just going out for a brisk walk can raise endorphins and reenergize you.
- Try not to overeat or drink too much as it will leave you feeling bloated and possibly sick, spoiling your social activities.
- Make sure you get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can leave you irritable.
- Take a break. If things are getting too hectic take a day off to ‘just be.’
The Mayo clinic says if the holiday season has led to depression in the past its especially important to prevent it from happening again. Do so by:
- Acknowledging your feelings. If you have suffered a bereavement in the past year, or you can’t be with loved ones, remember that sadness and grief is normal. It’s ok to express these feelings, don’t think you have to pretend to be happy when you aren’t.
- Reaching out: If you feel lonely look for community, religious or other social events that can offer support and companionship. Volunteering is a great way to lift your spirits while helping others.
- Being realistic: The holidays don’t have to be perfect. Traditions change, be open to creating new ones.
- Setting aside differences: Try to accept family members as they are; set aside grievances for another time.
- Sticking to a budget: Don’t try to buy happiness with gifts. If you cannot afford to buy all the gifts you would like, try donating to a charity in someone’s name or make a home-made gift instead.
- Seek professional help if you need it: However hard you try, you may find yourself feeling anxious or sad. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.