“It's the most wonderful time of year!” You know the lyrics, right? According to Andy Williams, it is the “hap-happiest season of all”. Decorating, baking, parties, shopping, family get-togethers, and activities. The holiday season is supposed to be a time full of magic, wonder, love, and laughter. But for some folks, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is more like the hum-buggiest time of the year.
So much about the holidays can be exhausting and overwhelming. The stress of finances, travel, large crowds, or perhaps the loss of a loved one through death or divorce and dealing with the “ghosts of Christmas past” can leave some folks counting the days until the holidays are over. This malaise is commonly called the “holiday blues” and it is a real struggle for many people.
The National Alliance for Mental Health reported 64% percent of people in a survey said they had experienced some form of the holiday blues in their lifetime, and 24% said they experienced it “a lot” over the holiday seasons. So what is the “holiday blues” exactly, and what causes it?
The holiday blues can be described as temporary feelings of depression and anxiety that occur during the holidays. It can be caused by extra stress, worry, fatigue, sadness, loneliness, a sense of loss, and unrealistic expectations. For those that already cope with depression and anxiety, the holidays can exacerbate symptoms and make a tough situation worse. The lack of sunlight during the winter months, increased alcohol and food consumption, and the expectation that we should all be Martha Stewart doesn’t help matters. It’s hard to spread Christmas cheer when our emotional, physical and social states are in shambles.
So what can be done to avoid the holiday blues? Here are some ways to “Keep Calm and Christmas On” this holiday season.
GET DOWN TO BASICS:
Enough cannot be said about the benefits of a little self-care. Try establishing a regular bed time with no electronics one hour before bedtime to promote good sleep hygiene. Eating a healthy breakfast, soaking in some sun and taking in some fresh air and exercise can do wonders for clearing a foggy mind. Eat in moderation. Perhaps eat a small snack before a holiday meal. Keep the alcoholic beverage consumption balanced. A good rule of thumb is one to two drinks per hour with no more than four to six drinks consumed in a sitting with a glass of water to keep hydrated.
FOCUS ON WHAT IS IMPORTANT
How about starting and ending your day with a reflection of gratitude, or keeping a gratitude journal? Gratitude has a way of turning what we have into enough and promotes contentment. Spend quality time with loved ones. Is it time to dust off the Monopoly game in the closet? Perhaps drive around looking at Christmas lights while drinking hot cocoa with the kids? A great way to lift the spirit is to volunteer or help someone in need. Try a random act of kindness to a sales person, cashier, or be a secret Santa. To give is to receive - and it feels good!
SAY “NO” MORE OFTEN:
There can be a tendency to overcommit during the holidays with scarce time left for oneself. Give yourself permission to say no. You can’t please everyone. Plan out the “can’t miss” activities and leave the rest. If you aren’t sure if you should attend something ask yourself if going will promote or hinder your well-being. Also, making a budget prior to shopping can cut down on overspending and the guilt of buyer’s remorse.
ORGANIZE THE CHAOS AND EMBRACE THE MESSY
For those perfectionists out there, this is for you. Lower your expectations of yourself and others. Perfectionism and comparing is an anxiety trap. 20 years from now will our kids remember how perfectly we decorated our tree? Instead of striving for perfection, how about settling for “good enough”? How many “shoulds” do you have about Christmas?
The next time you “should” yourself about a self-imposed Christmas rule, ask yourself, “Who says so”? For example, do we really need to make cookies for our neighbors? Would that time be better spent elsewhere?
“Be a rebel elf!” Christmas traditions can be broken. No one says you have to do the same thing every year. And if you are overwhelmed by a to-do list, I suggest taking a piece of paper and dividing it into four quadrants labeling each box “high priority”, “medium priority”, “low priority”, and “it can wait”. Put your list items in these boxes accordingly and I bet you will be surprised by the non-urgency of most tasks.
BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF
If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, or coping with recent separation or divorce, this time of year may be especially difficult. First, be honest about how you're feeling and know that it is perfectly acceptable to experience loneliness and sadness, or even anger. Allow yourself to grieve if necessary, but also allow time for joy. Treat yourself. Journal your feelings, or reach out to a friend. Maybe create new traditions. Give yourself space and grace as you navigate the holidays.
Follow these tips to prevent holiday anxiety, stress, and depression. Remember the holidays won’t last forever. One holiday at a time! If you find that anxiety and depression worsens after the holidays please seek out a physician or mental health professional. They are there to help!