It’s that  Wonderful Time of Year; Full of Stress & Anxiety

Ah the Holidays are upon us, it’s that wonderful time of year where family and friends come together to offer Christmas cheer. It’s also so the most stressful time of the year. Many people may look forward to the holiday season with celebrations such as Christmas, Hanukkah, and Thanksgiving, for most people is a fun time of the year filled with parties and social gatherings with family and friends. But for many people, it is a time filled with sadness, self-reflection, loneliness, and anxiety. Sadness is truly a personal feeling, what makes one person sad my not affect another person.

Below Are Some Common Factors that may be causing holiday stress and sadness 

SeasonalAffect Disorder can cause Stress (SAD):                                                                            

Nonhuman animals react to the changing season with changes in mood and behavior. People change behaviors, as well, when there is less sunlight.  Most people find they eat and sleeps more in wintertime and dislike the dark mornings and short days. For some,however, other symptoms are severe enough to disrupt their lives and cause considerable distress. Sadness or depression at holiday time can be a reaction to the stresses and demands of the season. In other cases, people may feel depressed around the winter holidays due to a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sometimes referred to as seasonal depression. This is a type of depression that tends to occur as the days grow shorter in the fall and winter. It is believed that affected people react to the decreasing amounts of sunlight and the colder temperatures as the fall and winter progress, resulting in feelings of depression. Although this disorder usually occurs in the fall and winter, there are those who suffer from this condition during the summer instead of, or in addition to, during the fall or winter. In the case of seasonal affective disorder or a true depressive disorder, symptoms may persist beyond the holidays or may be more severe.The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder tirednessfatigue,depression, crying spells and moodswings, irritability, trouble concentrating,body aches,loss of sex drive, insomnia,decreased activity level, and overeating with associated weight gain. If you believe you may have Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) your health care professional may perform lab tests or other tests to rule out any medical conditions that may be causing your symptoms.Likewise, a full history of your symptoms is likely to provide clues that can help distinguish a mild case of the holiday blues from SAD or a more serious and chronic depressive disorder.

Being prone to Depression and Anxiety:                                                                                                       

Risk factors for depression, anxiety, and stress during the holidays include having a mood disorder or experiencing depression at other times during the year and a lack of adequate social support systems.Other risk factors can include recent trauma, life changes, excessive alcohol intake, or concurrent illness. Having financial troubles may increase one’s susceptibility to anxiety or stress during the holidays. Stressful family situations and illness in the family are also predisposing factors. Balancing the demands of shopping, parties, family obligations, and house guests may contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed and increased tension. People who do not view themselves as depressed may develop stress responses and may experience a number of physical and emotional symptoms including headaches, excessive drinking,overeating, and insomnia.Any factor that can cause depression, stress, or anxiety in an individual can worsen these conditions at holiday time. People who ordinarily not describe themselves has having depression and anxiety may develop stress responses and may experience a number of physical and emotional symptoms including Some may experience post-holiday sadness after New Year’s day. This can result from built-up expectations and disappointments from the previous year, coupled with stress and fatigue.

Beating the Holiday Blues:                                                                                          Those suffering from any type of holiday depression or stress may benefit from increased social support during this time of year. For uncomplicated holiday blues, improvement may be found by finding ways to reduce the stresses associated with the holiday, either by limiting commitments and outside activities, making arrangements to share family responsibilities such as gift shopping and meal preparation, agreeing upon financial limits for purchases, or taking extra time to rest and rejuvenate.                                                                                                             

Counseling or support groups are another way to relieve some of the burdens of holiday stress or sadness. Knowing that others feel the same way and sharing your thoughts and experiences can help you manage your troubling feelings. Support groups also provide a further layer of social support during this vulnerable time period. In addition to being an important step in preventing the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, regular exposure to light that is bright, particularly fluorescent lights, significantly improves depression in people with SAD during the fall and winter. Visiting other areas of the world that are characterized by more bright light can also improve the symptoms of SAD.

These tips below might help prevent stress, anxiety, and mild depression commonly associated with the holiday season:

  • Make realistic expectations for the holiday season.
  • Set realistic goals for yourself. 
  • Pace yourself. Do not take on more responsibilities than you can handle.
  • Make a list and prioritize the important activities. This can help make holiday tasks more manageable.
  • Be realistic about what you can and cannot do.
  • Do not put all your energy into just one day (for example, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve). The holiday cheer can be spread from one holiday event to the next. 
  • Live “in the moment” and enjoy the present. Look to the future with optimism.
  • Don’t set yourself up for disappointment and sadness by comparing today with the “good old days” of the past.
  • If you are lonely, try volunteering some of your time to help others.
  • Find holiday activities that are free, such as looking at holiday decorations, going window shopping without buying, and watching the winter weather, whether it’s a snowflake or a raindrop.
  • Limit your consumption of alcohol, since excessive drinking will only increase your feelings of depression.
  • Try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a new way.
  • Spend time with supportive and caring people.
  • Reach out and make new friends.
  • Make time to contact a long lost friend or relative and spread some holiday cheer.
  • Make time for yourself!
  • Let others share the responsibilities of holiday tasks.
  • Keep track of your holiday spending. Overspending can lead to depression when the bills arrive after the holidays are over.

Finally , if the Holidays had been a spiritual time the way you celebrated it in your childhood and you find yourself no longer celebrating that way sometimes a return to your spiritual roots can help bring perspective back to the meaning of the Holidays. Find ways to celebrate the holidays that would help you return to your spiritual understanding of what this time of year means to you,   

Merry Christmas

Jim Katsoudas