Stress and Mental Health During the Holidays – Keeping the Holidays Merry and Bright
This month’s blog post comes based on an interview with Amanda McKenna from The Women’s Center. In addition to her role as a therapist, Amanda serves as Intake Supervisor at The Center. She is an initial point-of-contact for clients, listening to their needs, providing information, and coordinating interactions with the various programs and services available at The Center.
Amanda describes her job as being the most fulfilling role of her career. She writes, “I am so lucky to be trusted and be in a position to help those who need support, a listening ear,, and coping skills to live their best life.”
’Tis the season to be jolly?…
As a society, we seem to have gone all-in to idealize the holidays. For most, the mere mention of the holiday season conjures images of ice skating on frozen ponds, receiving new cars wrapped in giant red bows as gifts, and, of course, picturesque family gatherings.
But let’s be honest. Although the holidays could (and should) be a time to relax and reconnect, they are often a time when many of us feel heightened stress, anxiety, and emotions. And, for some, this time of year can bring acute feelings of sadness and even depression. Understanding why this happens, as well as when to step back and take a break, or even seek treatment, is important.
Dashing through the snow!
The holidays are unusually busy times: scrambling to finish work projects, running around on extra errands, dealing with crowded travel, and participating in more activities than usual. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 38% of people report that their stress level increases during the holidays. Additionally, the season often brings added financial, dietary and social stressors. Compounding all of this is the fact that this past year has been extra-challenging, with the global pandemic and all the pressures that have accompanied it.
Ghosts of past, present, and future
Along with the busy schedule, the holidays often bring increased social interactions: family, friends, and crowds. None of these things are intrinsically harmful, but holiday gatherings sometimes concentrate on existing tensions. Oftentimes holidays are perceived as “markers,” or events that can prompt you to compare yourself to others or to measure your “success” versus past years. And, for those with strained relationships, forced interactions may be challenging.
On the flip-side, the holidays can also be a time when the absence of family or social connections is highlighted. A lot of people isolate themselves when they start to feel depressed. Holidays aside, seasonal depression affects millions of people during the winter months.
The most wonderful time of the year?
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the holidays is that many people have unreasonable expectations of themselves, of their activities and of others during the holiday season. Particularly in recent years when circumstances have altered travel, personal finances and annual traditions, people who felt obligated to keep traditions the same year after year have been forced to adjust.
What you can do to help make the season bright
With all that said, here are some helpful tips to help manage the season:
- Know yourself and acknowledge your stressors – different people have different triggers that stress them out. Understanding this (and coming up with a plan to mitigate) can greatly help you manage your holidays.
- Plan ahead and prioritize what makes you happy – Limiting high-stress activities, even going as far as eliminating triggers, is perfectly fine. For some people, not overdoing the holidays is great advice. As cliché as it sounds, the holidays should be about experiences, not stacks of gifts or elaborate meals.
- Take time for yourself – Planning in advance includes prioritizing and scheduling time for what recharges you. Set aside time to relax, get outdoors, take a walk, meditate and breathe, reach out to others (even if it’s just on video chat), and do things that help you feel uplifted and refreshed.
- Set boundaries, but stay balanced – Everyone has the right to and should set boundaries. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. But also remember that the holidays can provide new experiences to look forward to. Participate in life.
- Maintain routines, as much as possible – Even during busy times, having a routine is important. Maintaining a diet, exercise, and sleep routine can provide consistency during a time when you might feel overwhelmed. Sticking to your plan can also help to keep your mood stable and your immune system strong, which can help you more effectively manage stressful situations.
A beautiful sight. We’re happy tonight. Walking in a winter wonderland
The holidays can be a time to participate in fun activities, connect with people and build great memories. Be good to yourself and remember that everyone is different and you should not feel obligated to build your holiday traditions based on perceived expectations.
With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.
When to Reach Out
Although the blog post is written in a lighthearted style, mental health during the holidays, including seasonal affective disorder affects millions each year. The Women’s Center urges anyone experiencing these symptoms to not simply brush off these feelings, but to take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the season and year. If you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or sad, please contact us or talk to a healthcare professional, especially if these feelings are persistent.