The holiday season can be the most wonderful time of the year, but unfortunately not for everyone. While images of love and joy fill storefronts, TV screens and magazine covers, for many the reality of the holidays can be a time of increased sadness, pressure, and stress.
There are several reasons people may experience symptoms of anxiety or depression over the holidays. Increased demands on your time, complicated family dynamics, loneliness, and financial stress are all common triggers. The holiday season is also a time when people experience increased grief remembering lost loved ones, or struggle with painful memories of past holidays.
Amwell therapist Jennifer Tsappis, LICSW, says anticipating and preparing for this challenging time of year can help you to cope with difficult emotions. “Approaching the holiday season with an open mind about your emotional challenges can allow you to prioritize your wellness and self-care.”
With a little planning and some positive thinking, find peace and joy during the holidays with these 8 tips.
1. Accept your feelings. It is OK to feel more sad or anxious around the holidays. Pushing away or judging your feelings will only intensify them. Acceptance of our emotions allows us to develop strategies to cope with them.
2. Seek time outside every day to exercise. As little as a brisk 20 minute walk in the daylight can reduce depression symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Prioritize this time for yourself every day.
3. Create your own traditions. Difficult or sad memories of past holidays often lead to a tendency to avoid or reject holiday traditions. There is to right way to celebrate the holidays. Rituals of any kind are positive for our mental health and creating your own allows to you to gain control of your emotions and live in the present.
4. Create and stick to a budget. It may be helpful to get your family on board with this, if necessary. Fight the urge to spend beyond your means by thinking about homemade, meaningful gifts or planning experiences with those you care about rather than splurging on material items.
5. Focus on what you are grateful for. Start a gratitude journal, a meditation practice or simply put aside a few minutes every day to refocus on the positive things in your life.
6. Help others. Volunteering your time or skills is a wonderful way to lift your spirits and connect with what really matters during the holiday season. If you struggle with loneliness around the holidays, volunteering is a great way to meet new people while promoting a feeling of purpose during a difficult time.
7. Give yourself a break. Do the things YOU love and need to do for your physical and mental wellness - exercise, yoga, massage, spiritual practices, or any activity that calms you down and gives you a better perspective on what is important in your life. Self-care is not selfish.
8. Reach out for help. Talking to a friend, a family member or a therapist will help you to commit to a plan to challenge your depression and reduce isolation.
“Any time that you feel that your emotions are persistently overwhelming and you cannot cope, it is important to reach out to a professional, especially when your symptoms include persistent anxiety, hopelessness, poor sleep or changes in appetite.” Tsappis adds. “Online therapy is an excellent option for talking to a licensed mental health professional quickly and at your convenience.”