The holiday season is in full swing, but not everyone is feeling festive. Although it’s supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year,” the social, financial, and time pressures to make everything perfect can make it the most stressful time of the year. Holiday stress is real, and it can have a negative impact on our mental health.
“The holidays can bring with them a lot of feelings of obligation and responsibility for others’ happiness, which is really quite stressful,” says Dr. Ryan Connolly, medical director at Independence Blue Cross. “We can overextend ourselves by shopping, cooking, and cleaning, and trying to make everything perfect; inevitably, all is not perfect, and when a disappointment or argument occurs, we can really lose perspective and become overwhelmed.”
December can be especially difficult for people struggling with mental health issues or alcohol and other substance use disorders. Many who face these issues can be disappointed if they don’t feel understood by or connected with those around them.
Add to that the fact that many people experience increased feelings of sadness and depression during the dark winter months, and you have a recipe for not-so-happy holidays.
However, you can create a happier holiday season with some planning and realistic expectations. Here are some tips to help.
Acknowledge your feelings and your situation. If you’ve suffered the death of a family member, the loss of a job, or another major life event, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness. Don’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the season. If you’re feeling lonely and are separated from loved ones, consider seeking out community or religious events.
Reach out to others. Communicate in advance with family and friends. Talk about your concerns and your hopes around holiday gatherings. Discuss sharing cooking responsibilities, gift exchanges, and any special needs of family members. If you can’t get together in person, find a different way to connect and celebrate, whether through video chat or by sending photos and videos. Look for opportunities to volunteer or do something nice for a friend or neighbor.
Stick to a budget. Decide in advance how much you’re comfortable spending and stick to your budget. You can reduce costs through homemade gifts, like baked goods, home-grown plants, or crafts. Reduce the number of gifts by starting a family gift exchange or donating to a favorite charity.
Maintain healthy habits. Sticking to a healthy diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise might be challenging during the holiday season, but it will pay off in energy and stress reduction. Try meditating, taking a walk, or listening to calming music to refresh yourself. Avoid excessive alcohol, tobacco, and drug use.
Seek professional help if you need it. If, despite your best efforts, you feel overwhelmed by sadness, unable to sleep, or have difficulty completing routine chores, contact your health care provider. You may regain a positive outlook and enjoy the festivities through counseling, medication, or both.
“There’s no need to try to make your holidays conform to idealistic images from the movies or advertising,” Dr. Connolly says. “With planning and intentionality, you can make your holidays a meaningful and restorative time for you and the people you care about.”
For more information about mental health, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.