For many people the holiday season is full of celebrations and cheer but, for some, this season can bring more misery than merriment. With high expectations around gift-giving, decorating, feasting and family gatherings, feelings of disappointment, sadness, fatigue, frustration or being overwhelmed are not unusual.
Psychologists point out that there is a difference between the holiday blues, which are often temporary and go away once the season ends, and more serious conditions such as depression, seasonal affective disorder and anxiety disorders.
“If people are already experiencing stress or sadness in their life, they may be especially vulnerable to these feelings during the holidays,” says Dr. Natalie Dattilo, a clinical psychologist and IPA spokesperson. “But the holidays can also be a great time to enhance psychological well-being and coming together as a community.”
The American Psychological Association’s 2016 Stress in America survey found that three in 10 Americans say that their stress has increased in the past year and 1 in 5 reported experiencing extreme stress. However, there are steps we can take to lessen the “blues” and ensure a worry-free holiday season.
Indiana Psychological Association and the American Psychological Association offer these tips to combat the holiday blues:
Take time for yourself — There may be pressure to be everything to everyone. But people should remember that they’re only one person and there are only so many hours in a day so it’s important to prioritize. Take care of the activities and traditions that are the most important to you and remember that sometimes self-care is the best thing people can do. Go for a walk, hang out with a friend, watch a movie or take time out to listen to music or read a new book. Everyone needs time to recharge their batteries — by slowing down, people will actually have more energy to accomplish their goals.
Volunteer — Find a local charity, such as a soup kitchen or a shelter where families can volunteer together and support their community. Not only is giving back a great way to spend time with loved ones during the holidays, but helping others has been shown to reduce stress and improve overall mood.
Have realistic expectations — No holiday celebration is perfect. View inevitable missteps as opportunities to demonstrate flexibility and resilience. A lopsided tree or a burned brisket won’t ruin the holiday; rather, it will create a family memory. If the children’s wish lists are outside the budget, talk to them about the family’s finances this year and remind them that the holidays aren’t about expensive gifts.
Remember what’s important — The barrage of holiday advertising can make people forget what the holiday season is really about. When the holiday expense list is running longer than the monthly budget, scale back and be reminded that what makes a great celebration is loved ones, not store-bought presents, elaborate decorations or gourmet food.
Seek support — Talk about the anxiety, stress or sadness with friends and family. Getting things out in the open can help people navigate their feelings and work toward a solution for the holiday blues. If the feelings persist, consider seeing a professional such as a psychologist. They are uniquely trained to understand the connection between the mind and body. They can offer strategies as to how goals can be adjusted so they are attainable as well as help people change unhealthy behaviors and address emotional issues.
Dr. Dattilo agrees. “This time of year doesn’t have to be difficult. For many, it offers a time to reflect, gather with friends and family, and celebrate traditions. But for those who do struggle, know that you are not alone. Take care of yourself and reach out for help if you need to.”
To learn more visit the American Psychological Association at www.apa.org/helpcenter and follow @APAHelpCenter. To find out more about the Indiana Psychological Association visit www.indianapsychology.org and follow @IN_Psych_Assoc