Getting a Handle on Holiday Stress
Seeing blue instead of red and green? The holidays should be a time of peace and joy, at least according to the greeting cards.
But the holiday season can also be a time of stress and depression, beset by money worries, frenzied to-do lists and family tension. Stress is practically built into the holiday season, but with some preparation you can help to head it off at the pass:
- Set realistic goals. Decide in advance what is most important for you and your family, and focus your celebrations on those things. In this day of extended families, we often feel that we have to spend time with everyone. Sometimes these expectations are not realistic. Remember you get to create your own family traditions and sometimes that means slowing down and putting aside special times just for you and your kids. That means don’t over schedule - decide ahead of time what activities you want to do rather than ones you feel obligated to do.
- Make a budget and stick to it. Overspending is a major source of holiday stress, and the credit card bills can leave a hangover for months after. If gift buying is part of your holiday celebration, decide in advance what you can afford to spend this year. The easy part is creating a list of everyone you’ll shop for and how much to spend – the hard part is sticking to it. Consider less expensive gift options, like a nicely framed photograph of a shared memory or the gift of your time.
- Don't abandon healthy habits. During times of stress, people often cut back on sleep and compensate by loading up on alcohol, caffeine and unhealthy food. Not only do those overindulgences sap your energy but they can also compound your feelings of stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don't go overboard on sweets. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity, even if it’s just a brisk walk between social engagements.
- Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. Many workplaces offer employee assistance programs through their health insurer that can provide resources for support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
- Seek help. If you feel hopelessness, loss of interest in work or other activities, social withdrawal, a significant change in appetite and/or unhappiness or irritability for a prolonged period of time, seek out a health care provider. You may be dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder, which tends to build up in the late autumn and winter months as sunlight decreases, or with long-term depression. Depending on your situation, talk therapy, light therapy and medication may help.
As you head into the holiday season, consider ways that you can change the pressures you may be putting on yourself during this time of year. Instead, make a plan to rest, relax and reflect on the true meaning of the season.