How to Break Free of Holiday Stress and Depression
Tense family relationships, large gatherings and all the preparation required can prove overwhelming for the best of us — and if you’re concerned about anxiety and depression around the holidays, you’re certainly not alone.
The good news is there are many ways to ease your stress and depression symptoms during this time of year. If you follow a few key rules when planning and partying, you can have the celebratory season of your dreams without the holiday blues knocking at your door.
Holiday Stress & Anxiety Statistics
If you’ve ever planned a holiday event — even just in part — you already know the kind of stress you’re in for during the season. No matter how seamlessly you predict everything will go, there’s always the worry that something might go wrong. And if you’re beset with complications from the get-go, tensions only flare from there. The American Psychological Association in conjunction with Greenberg Research conducted a study designed to see just how many of us suffer from elevated stress levels during the holiday season — and the numbers may surprise you.
As you can see, a pretty big chunk of the population experiences some manifestation of the “holiday blues” when that time of year rolls around. While stress and irritability may make a lot of sense as a response to the pressure you’re under, it can quickly snowball into the anger felt by over a third of people in the study. How can you manage stress symptoms while avoiding causes of holiday stress and still making the most of your holiday festivities?
Most Common Causes of Holiday Stress
When learning how to manage symptoms of anxiety around the holidays, it’s important to learn their root causes. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of holiday stress.
1) Overwork & Under-Preparation
You tried to have it all together this year — you really did — but the streamers aren’t the right color, the drink cooler isn’t working and you’re not sure where that cousin is that was supposed to help you set up tables. But don’t fret — as long as you work in one specific coping mechanism, all that might not be the end of the world.
Planning is all well and good, but a key aspect of doing it successfully is realizing that it’s very probable something won’t turn out how you want it to. In order to help yourself come to terms with this fact, it’s a good idea to make planning lists that are organized (and maybe even color-coded) in terms of priority. That way, you’ll be able to see visually that someone forgetting to pick up corn chips is way down on the list of things to worry about, and you’ll be able to let it go with a little less stress.
2) Financial Friction
The touchiest subject in private holiday conversations is often money. With all that capital going into decorations, food, transportation, entertainment and more, it’s easy to lose track of what you’re spending — or to go over a planned budget.
Always leave a good bit of head room in your holiday planning and gift budget. It’s a good policy to expect to spend money on the unexpected around this time of year, and if you make it through without hitting your budget ceiling, then you’ll really have something to celebrate! If your finances are combined with someone else’s, that makes clear communication and spending guidelines twice as important. If you can avoid any conflicts over cash with your partner, you’ve already prevented one of the most common crises of the season.
3) Loneliness & Overstimulation
When everyone is gathered together to celebrate, many people can have one of two negative social reactions. For some of us, seeing friends and family reminds us of relationships we don’t have and can cause a tailspin of rumination. If you already feel like you don’t fit in or aren’t particularly welcomed, the holidays can really emphasize that. It’s a good time to cultivate one-on-one relationships, rather than focusing on the group at large — which can seem overwhelming when you’re trying to make or revive a connection with family and friends.
On the other hand, some people might experience a sensory or emotional overload when surrounded by all these people giving them attention. This is why it’s extremely important to take time for yourself in all the celebratory chaos. Even if it’s just a few minutes to drink some tea or play a relaxing game, you’ll thank yourself once you dive back into the fray refreshed and ready to re-engage.
4) Elevated Expectations
The pressure to perform can really get to you over time and is one of the worst causes of holiday stress. It can come from both external and internal sources as well. Your mother or aunt may not like the way you cook or how you’ve arranged the chairs. Your dad or uncle might not approve of your haircut or current job situation. These external sources of pressure can build — especially since disappointing family is never fun. But it’s important to remember that you quite literally cannot please everyone and that your best is going to have to be acceptable to them.
It’s often a good deal harder to ignore the criticisms you level at yourself, however. Whether you feel like you haven’t accomplished anything this year or are hopeless that you’ll be able to keep that New Year’s Resolution, remember that the holiday spirit of forgiveness should also extend to yourself.
5) Event Exhaustion
As much as you may (or may not) want to be in the center of things, there’s only so much you can do. You’re only one person, after all! If you’re faced with too many choices and too many parties or events, you’re unfortunately going to have to whittle them down to a shortlist. There’s nothing quite like going to every single thing you’re invited to and finding that you’re not able to enjoy each one to their fullest since they’re practically stacked on top of each other.
If you do choose to go all-out on the event front, make sure you put time in your schedule to recharge. There’s no excuse not to allot time for proper sleeping and maybe even a little exercise! Don’t let the wave of events get you off your healthy life track!
Most Common Causes of Holiday Depression
It’s no surprise that all these opportunities for stress can lead to feeling down in the dumps, but do you know the difference between the “holiday blues” and full-fledged depression? Holiday blues involve depressive symptoms but don’t generally continue long enough with enough severity to constitute a depressive disorder diagnosis.
The best way to think about it is that the holiday blues are like a cold — irritating and hard to suffer through, but temporary and not indicative of lasting damage. A depressive disorder, on the other hand, is more akin to a case of pneumonia. It can develop on its own or piggyback on a cold, but it is much more severe and requires professional treatment.
Some of the top causes of holiday depression are:
1) Stress & Anxiety
When you’re unable to calm your stress and anxiety over the season, it can really deplete you. Unfortunately, if this isn’t addressed, it can cause you to lapse into a more long-term depression.
2) Loneliness & Isolation
It’s no secret that socialization is part of good mental health. However, this becomes more difficult around the holidays, and dwelling on loneliness is likely to create further depressive symptoms.
When you’re constantly on the go, it’s hard to avoid getting tired. If you insist on denying yourself the rest you need, you run the risk of developing serious fatigue, which can be a big factor in depression.
4) Familial Infighting
Nothing can bring you down quite like a bunch of people who are supposed to love each other bickering over every little thing. Of course, no family is picture-perfect, but that doesn’t mean the atmosphere won’t affect you adversely.
5) Reduced Sunlight
Many people experience what’s known as Seasonal Affective Disorder — a type of depression linked to changes in the seasons. Most people experience it during the fall and winter months, and it’s brought on by the lack of sunlight.
When all these come together, you’ll find yourself experiencing symptoms such as:
Sadness or discouragement
Loss of interest in activities
Disruptions in appetite
Lack of energy
Difficulty with concentration
None of these make for a great time, and together they can really make the holidays difficult. What can you do to make sure depression doesn’t dampen your spirits?
How to Beat the Holiday Blues
When it comes to keeping depression at bay, there are a few key things to remember. It can be really easy to lose track of your own emotions and reactions in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, so making sure to check in with yourself is a huge part of staying emotionally healthy. Here are some basic tips for staying in good mental shape and avoiding the causes of holiday depression where you can.
1) Watch What You Eat
For many people, the holiday season precipitates a big shift in diet — mostly in the form of simple overeating. If you struggle with your self-esteem, managing how much you eat can help you avoid issues with your body image and self-control.
2) Avoid Excess Alcohol
Just like food, alcoholic beverages tend to abound around the holidays. Avoid the hurt of hangovers and limit your alcohol intake to recommended guidelines. Remember: There’s nothing wrong with abstinence — and in many situations, it’s the smarter decision to make.
It can seem impossible to fit exercise into your holiday schedule, and all the extra food in your stomach may make it an extra-unappealing proposition. But regular exercise is proven to be a great mood booster. In fact, regular vigorous exercise reduces your risk of developing depression or anxiety by up to 25%! If you can keep it up during the holidays, you’ll come through much happier — not to mention healthier.
4) Set Personal Boundaries
It’s hard to say no when so many people are pulling you in so many directions, but it’s a critical part of staying mentally and emotionally healthy around the holidays. As a cause of holiday depression, this one is remedied by pre-determining how many events you feel you can attend, how many gifts you can afford and what responsibilities you’re prepared to take on. The holidays are about everyone doing their part, and making sure you don’t do too much can greatly decrease your chances of the blues.
5) Appreciate What’s Present
It’s easier than any of us wants to admit to get caught up in holiday chaos and forget to enjoy what we have going for us. Consider taking a mindfulness-based approach, rooted in truly observing and appreciating certain people, objects or environments around you. Listing off what you’re grateful for is an excellent way to immediately jolt you out of the holiday blues and can help you enjoy yourself throughout the whole season.
How Holiday Blues Affect Addiction
One more thing to consider is the relationship between anxiety, depression and addiction. Unfortunately, these conditions can cause, affect and play off of each other. When someone is experiencing both substance abuse and a mental disorder at the same time, it’s known as a dual diagnosis. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
As you can see, mental disorders and substance abuse disorders are very closely linked, though cause and effect can be different in every individual’s case. During the holidays, the stress and anxiety placed on people with co-occurring disorders can worsen both addiction and mental illness symptoms.
If you’re concerned that you or a loved one need guidance and support with dual diagnoses during the holiday season or any other time, you should consider the wide-ranging benefits of a dual diagnosis treatment program like the one offered at JourneyPure Emerald Coast.
Formal treatment offers individuals the expertise of medical and clinical professionals who understand how mental illness complicates addiction. These professionals have the skills to help you understand the origins and operations of both mental and substance abuse disorders and can guide you through the ins and outs of the healing process. Dual diagnoses must be treated concurrently for successful recovery, and the most effective way to do that is to enroll in a program specifically designed to treat them side-by-side.
A combination of clinical therapies, expert medical oversight and the support and encouragement gained from sharing the treatment experience with others makes JourneyPure Emerald Coast the premier treatment center for dual diagnoses. Don’t wait another moment — call (800) 493-5253 and speak with a compassionate consultant about starting your journey to recovery today.