According to studies there isn’t a link between the holidays and an increase in suicide or other serious mental illnesses. But the season still offers plenty of reasons to leave otherwise healthy people feeling exhausted, frustrated, and even depressed. Understanding and limiting these triggers can help make your season more merry and bright.
Busier Schedules & More Commitments
Most of us don’t get a week off from work to get ready for the holidays. Instead we try to cram parties, shopping, decorating, and even hand-making gifts or treats into our already busy schedules. This kind of frantic pace adds stress and anxiety that can quickly spiral into feelings of inadequacy.
- Don’t commit to something because you feel it is expected of you. Decide on the activities your family genuinely wants to participate in and politely decline the rest. It may be agonizing at first, but it gets easier with practice.
- Try rotating traditions. For example, your family can put lights up on the house and make handmade gifts on even years but attend the family, church, and office parties on odd years.
- Remember to leave room for your normal sanity-saving activities and scheduled downtime. It’s easy to shelf “date night” with your spouse because you still have five scarves to knit, but your stress level will rise as a result.
- If you can’t bear to celebrate Christmas without handmade gifts and homemade treats be realistic about the time you’ll need to set aside and choose things that can be made in advance.
- Save a few vacation days for mid-December so that you can wrap up projects while the kids are still in school and then get on with enjoying the season obligation-free.
Overeating and Under-Exercising
All of the treats, parties, and social obligations can leave your diet and exercise routine in the dust, which can leave you feeling tired and cranky. Even worse, you’ll be left with a few extra pounds and feel like your fitness level has taken two steps back after the new year.
- If your break room is filled with treats at this time of year, avoid it entirely. Studies have shown that there is a higher probability you’ll indulge in a treat once you’ve laid eyes on it than if you’ve just been told about it.
- If you decide to sample the treat tray, don’t eat from it. Take the portion you’d be comfortable eating and put it into a small dish rather than picking from the bowls and trays. This will help your brain keep better track of how much you’ve really eaten.
- Don’t sacrifice your workouts when holiday activities seem to overwhelm your calendar. A regular workout and healthy diet are your best natural defense against the stress of the holidays.
- There are things we like to eat because they come packed with nostalgia or because they are our favorite holiday-time foods. Then there are things we eat just because they are put in front of us. Be conscious of the difference and save your calories for the indulgences you truly want.
Shortened Day Time Hours
The holidays just happen to coincide with the shortest days of the year. Up to 9.7% of Americans report suffering feelings of depression throughout the winter – a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
- Milder symptoms can be treated with more exposure to daylight. Activities like bundling up and getting out each day for a walk can help.
- More severe symptoms can be helped with light therapies. If you’ve noticed feelings of depression that recur each winter, talk about this with your doctor.
Over and Under Spending
There is a certain amount of self-torture involved with holiday shopping for most of us. Either we blow our budgets and feel guilty and stressed about money or we keep the spending in check and just feel guilty about not giving our loves ones the best possible gifts.
- Use a carefully organized list with an in-line budget to help keep you focused.
- If you aren’t sure what to get someone, think about it at home. Browsing leads to overspending and not just on the recipient. Many of us spend just as much on ourselves around the holidays as we do on others.
- If you know stores are a temptation, do your shopping online. For some of us, that degree of removal from the “shopping high” is enough to keep us seeing things objectively.
- If your extended family still insists on everyone buying a gift for everyone else, be a trendsetter and campaign in advance for a new tradition like drawing names. Just after Thanksgiving dinner when the tryptophan is really kicking in is an excellent opportunity to bring this up.
- Some families also have gifting rules for their children such as “no more than three gifts” or one gift in each of four categories like: something to read, something to wear, something you want, and something you need. These kinds of traditions help set a natural spending limit and keep expectations in check while keeping the fun and creativity alive.
- You and your spouse may decide the best possible gift you can give one another is a little vacation from the holidays. Instead of buying each other gifts, take a “secret day off” from work on the first day back to school after the holiday break. Spend the day reconnecting, working on your New Year’s Resolution, or just appreciating the golden silence.
The holidays may be the only time of the year we see some members of our extended family. Interacting with siblings and parents can awaken old negative feelings that may have lain dormant all year. Additionally, your schedule may be so tight you feel like you don’t have the room to give each family member the time they deserve.
- Remember to put family time on the schedule when you’re selecting the holiday activities for the year. Since this is less formal it can easily be overlooked and conflict with last minute obligations.
- Give yourself permission to limit your exposure to people (even relatives) who have a toxic affect on your mood. Instead make an effort to spend more time with the people in your life who elevate your mood.
- If you’re hosting, choose group activities carefully. Family parties that are open-house style, potluck, and informal will help avoid mountains of stress if you have family members that are not punctual, are unpredictable, or have small children. Save the symphony tickets and restaurant meals for smaller family groups
To borrow a line from Dickens himself, the holidays can be “the best of times and the worst of times.” If the “Holiday Blues” make it a tradition to visit you, take steps now to guard your physical and mental well being.
- Cushman D. Mayo study shows no link between holidays, suicide. The Des Moines Register . 11 December 1995.
- Friedman, Richard A. “Brought on by Darkness, Disorder Needs Light”. New York Times’’, 2007-12-18.
- Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder/DS00195/DSECTION=symptoms