The holiday season can be a time full of joy, parties and family gatherings. But for many people, it is also a time of incredible stress or even depression. The holiday preparations often induce anxiety as people become overwhelmed by a dizzying array of demands and “to do” lists in an effort to pull off a perfect holiday. For some, the holiday season is a time of intense loneliness and isolation, and a time to reflect on past failures, inadequacies or loss.
Unrealistic expectations, financial constraints and the demands of shopping, parties, family reunions and house guests can contribute to feelings of fatigue, tension and depression. Holiday depression can also be intensified by the thought of the new year approaching, in light of this year’s unaccomplished goals. Post-holiday depression is also common when disappointments from preceding months are compounded by excessive stress and fatigue after the holidays are over.
Whatever may cause you to become more emotionally strained at this time of year, here are some tips to help minimize the stress and depression that often accompany the holiday season:
- Focus on the meaning of the holidays rather than the commercial trappings of the season. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Set a realistic budget and stick to it. Focus on spending quality time with your loved ones rather than buying expensive gifts to lessen feelings of guilt.
- If you feel lonely, don’t dwell on your isolation. Rather, give of yourself by volunteering with a group like the Salvation Army, at a local soup kitchen or for a charity in your neighborhood. By helping others in their time of need, you will boost your own spirit and sense of worth, knowing that you have made a difference to someone else’s life.
- Accept the fact that things will not always go according to plan – life happens and flexibility and adaptability will help you regroup when plans go wrong.
- Set aside differences: Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all your expectations. Set aside grievances and try to be understanding of others.
- Plan ahead and learn to say “no.” Set aside realistic time periods to accomplish your holiday goals. Plan each activity beforehand and make lists to keep you focused. This will prevent last-minute scrambling and give you a sense of organization and control. Be realistic about your time and abilities, and become comfortable declining an unrealistic or unnecessary demand.
- Don't abandon healthy habits: now is the time to maintain your focus on looking after your mind and body, to stay strong and healthy for the holidays. Overindulgence will only add to your stress and guilt. Make some time for yourself to clear your mind, slow your breathing and restore inner calm.
For additional tips on coping with depression during the holidays, visit Mental Health America.