Juggling Holiday Stress and Mental Health


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Holiday stress picture

By: Shelly-Anne Johnson, LCSW

“…Tis the season to be jolly, Fa La La La La La La La La” it’s the holidays right? During this time of year many of us gather with family and friends to enjoy each other’s company, have fun, and eat delicious meals together. We say “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” on autopilot without thinking about how those monotonous words can trigger the person without family, friends, food, and who probably won’t be having fun this holiday season. We are forced to feel good, “Good Vibes Only” further alienating those who struggle with the completely normal emotions of grief, anxiety, depression, and loneliness during the holidays.

According to the American Psychological Association, 38% of people surveyed said their stress increased during the holiday season, which can lead to physical illness, depression, anxiety, and substance misuse. The reasons given for this increased stress were: lack of time, financial pressure, gift-giving, and family gatherings. Other issues that could exacerbate bad feelings during this season are the loss of a loved one or a pet, sunless winter days which contribute to seasonal depression, loneliness, and demanding work deadlines. Covid has also changed the way we gather with loved ones. For the past few years, many of us have had to stay in isolation for fear of contracting or spreading the virus to aging grandparents or vulnerable newborns.

It can feel as if you have no control over your time and space which can cause an emotional spiral in an attempt to regain a sense of self. Juggling the holidays and stress does not have to be an Olympic sport. Here are some practical tips to help you prevent the stress of the holidays and regain your peace.

  • Set healthy boundaries. Don’t be afraid to say no. Overcommitting yourself can be very stressful when you realize you cannot fulfill all your commitments. This can cause feelings of disappointment and guilt.
  • Accept your needs. Be kind to yourself! Put your own mental and physical well-being first. Recognize what your triggers are to help you prepare for stressful situations. Is shopping for holiday gifts too stressful for you? What is making you feel physically and mentally agitated? Once you know this, you can take steps to avoid or cope with stress.
  • Spend time in nature. Studies show that time in nature reduces stress. Need to break away from family during a holiday gathering? Take a walk in a local park.
  • Stick to a budget. Before you do your gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.

Try these alternatives:

  • Donate to a charity in someone’s name.
  • Give homemade gifts.
  • Start a family gift exchange.
  • Maintain your healthy habits. Don’t abandon all the work you have done all year round by making the holidays a free-for-all. Overindulgence can lead to additional stress and guilt.
  • Pre-plan holiday activities. Set aside specific days for shopping, cooking, connecting with friends/family and other activities. Consider whether you can shop online for any of your items.
  • Prioritize self-care. Set aside time for yourself. Schedule time for activities that make you feel good. Whether that is reading a book, getting a massage, petting your dog, creating a work of art, or a playlist of music that makes you feel good. Make sure you are getting plenty of rest, eating well and exercising regularly.
  • Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events or communities. Many may have websites, online support groups, social media sites or virtual events. They can offer support and companionship.

Take control of the holidays this year. Don’t let the stress sneak upon you by employing the techniques listed above. Being proactive can help you find some peace and joy during the holidays. Let’s start normalizing real emotions and the fact that many of us struggle during this time of year. Remember, help is out there. You are not alone!

December 9, 2022


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