It’s the most wonderful time of the year… As the old song goes. But is it really? For many, it can be a time of year that is filled with stress, anxiety, depression, over eating, out of control spending, and feeling isolated. Why does this happen? Why does this time of year trigger all of those emotions? Here are a few things to keep in mind as we face the upcoming holidays.
High expectations of being close to family and friends
This is probably the number one factor I see in my practice that contributes to feelings of sadness and stress. Many of us believe that this is the one time of year when we should be with family (even if we are not particularly close to them). This is especially difficult if we have family issues that are unresolved. This can be really hard if it seems like our coworkers and friends talk incessantly about how they are going to be with their families. Or how they will be having multiple holiday celebrations because they have so many people to see that they just can’t fit it all in on one day.
How do we manage this? It is important to realize that there are many people who don’t get along with family and will not be spending the holidays with them. You are not alone. And there are some who spend time with their family out of obligation and not necessarily because they are part of a loving, close-knit family. Set reasonable expectations.
What we see in the media and on TV
This is enough to confuse anyone. On cable, there are multiple channels that run movies about how wonderful it is to be with family on the holidays. Not to mention that if we don’t get along that somehow everything works out well in the end. Even under the most impossible circumstances, it always ends with love and happiness on TV. Unfortunately, real life does not work like that. Many people enjoy watching these feel good movies and really look forward to them all year long. Although it can be a little bit of a mood lift while watching these movies, when you compare it to reality, it just does not add up. Don’t compare your life and your situation with what you see on TV. Instead, perhaps try looking at things from a different perspective and look for things that do bring you feelings of joy, happiness, and peace.
Commercialism of the holidays to shop more, spend more, do more
Every year, the Christmas sales at the stores begin earlier and earlier. One person even mentioned that after Halloween, the Christmas items were up on the shelves ready to be sold. And poor Thanksgiving items barely made an appearance on the clearance rack. And of course, we can’t forget the Christmas in July sales. All of this is to say that there is a lot of money for business at stake over the holidays. For some companies, the sales that are made over the holidays determines if they are in the red or the black for the entire year. All of that constant barrage of buying this and buying that most often leads to over spending and financial problems due to increased debt. Let’s face it, the credit card bill that comes in next month is something many people are paying off for a long time into the following year.
If you tend to over spend, try setting a budget before shopping and stick to it. Try drawing names so there are fewer presents to buy and concentrate on the gifts that means the most to them. For a change of pace, trying making a few gifts or spending time with the people you care about the most.
Lacking in self-care and being less active
Likewise, with all the shopping, spending, and parties, there is less time for self-care. Some tend to get less sleep, especially if they are anxious about meeting year-end goals and expectations at work. If you have children, there is a lot to do and prepare for including buying gifts for teachers, holiday parties, and all of the days off the kids have from school (how will I ever keep these kids entertained?) Last on the priority list seems to be eating healthy (too much fast food), exercising (who has the time), and taking time to relax and replenish.
Shorter days and longer nights
Many are affected by the shorter days and more darkness that winter brings. Some are not a big fan of the cold weather and spend more time indoors than they would during the summer. Almost everyone tends to experience a dip in their mood. But, if you are more prone to sadness, anxiety and depression, the stress of the holidays can lead to a flare up of these symptoms.
Grief over what has been lost
This may be a time for many who are thinking back to their younger days and many of their loved ones may no longer be here. Whether it is grandparents, parents, a spouse, siblings or other loved ones, the holidays can be a time of thinking more about the people you have lost and that can bring on symptoms of grief and sadness.
What to do?
Over the holidays, it is especially important to set realistic goals and expectations. This means trying to focus on the things you do enjoy and less on the things you miss or wish you had.
- make a plan that allows you to manage not only your time but also your budget
- say no to things you don’t want to do or don’t have the time to do
- take care of yourself and don’t give up on good habits that were established earlier in the year
- exercise, eat well, and get plenty of rest
- talk to friends and family when you are feeling overwhelmed and get support
- if you are stuck in the past, try some new traditions to help more forward
- have things to look forward to after the holidays. after all, the holidays don’t last forever.
- if you are not feeling like yourself and cannot seem to find your way, get some help. Either contact your healthcare provider or contact someone to talk to. There is help available.
If you are having difficulties dealing with the holidays, contact us for a free 15 minute consultation to see if therapy is right for you. Dr. Robin Myers, Psy.D., ABPP is a Board Certified Clinical Psychologist specializing in individual therapy and psychological evaluations and maintains a private practice in Maryville, Illinois.