To all of those last minute shoppers and late party planners, the final days are upon us… whether we are ready or not, Santa is coming!! Now if there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching (too many) Hallmark Christmas movies these past few weeks, it’s that the holidays are supposed to be filled with holiday spirit, family traditions, and above all else joy & happiness. I can’t say that I’ve ever watched a Hallmark movie that didn’t have a happy ending, but the truth in the matter is that for many people this isn’t the reality. For those who suffer from mental illness and even those who don’t, the holiday season can trigger an increase in psychosocial symptoms and a decline in one’s overall mental health.
According to a poll by the American Psychological Association, holiday stress statistics show that up to 69% of people are stressed by the feeling of having a “lack of time,” 69% of people are stressed by perceiving a “lack of money,” and 51% of people are stressed about the “pressure to give or get gifts.” All of the last minute stocking stuffers, wrapping gifts into the late hours of the night… I’m getting stressed just thinking about it! Aside from the typical stressors of the holiday season, many people also struggle with more serious symptoms including feelings of loneliness, the need to impress others, depression, and most commonly, loss.
Below are some useful tips to help manage some of the high stressors of the holiday season with the focus being to maintain and restore positive mental health:
First, be kind to your wallet!
● Create a list and set a budget for your Christmas shopping and stick to it!
● Try spending only cash or debit for your holiday shopping; we tend to get carried away when we start swiping the charge card!
● Implement a Secret Santa or gift swap for your holiday party that way you only have to buy one gift and everyone can enjoy.
● And remember, your family and friends will love just spending time with you, don’t stress over finding that “perfect gift.”
It’s okay to say “NO”
● Don’t overcommit or set unrealistic expectations; Cookie swaps, gift swaps, ugly sweater parties, “friendsmas”... the social gatherings can be overwhelming! Prioritize the most important holiday activities and don’t overbook yourself! I know that “FOMO” is real, but the stress of making others happy and stretching yourself thin are precursors to increasing your anxiety and fatigue at this time of year.
● If you’re the host, designate preparation and planning to friends/family so that you do not have too much on your plate.
● And literally, don’t have too much on your plate! Overindulging during the holidays often results in increased feelings of guilt or shame, so it’s okay to say no to that last drink or chocolate.
● Most recent blog posts have taught us that symptoms related to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter months include loneliness, depression, and irritability, all of which decrease mental health and stability.
● A great way to keep SAD to a minimum this season is to pick up a winter activity. People often say they are “too busy” during the holidays but even getting out to go for a short walk can help decrease stress and boost your energy.
● Open up to friends and family and let others know how you are feeling. Chances are that they are also experiencing or have experienced some form of loneliness or depression at some point and are willing to help.
● And if you find yourself alone for the holidays without the opportunity to spend time with family, reach out to friends and coworkers; somebody is eager to enjoy your company!
Remembering the loss of a loved one
● You are not alone, at some point we have all had to grieve the loss of a loved one and somehow manage to spend the first holiday without them. In no way should you forget their memory, rather you should share it. Acknowledge that the holiday’s won’t be the same, but then use those around you to lift you up and honor their memory rather than mourn a loss.
● It’s okay to feel sad, don’t feel ashamed by your feelings. Share memories and traditions from your loved ones and even create new ones that they may have enjoyed.
And finally, year end reflection:
● Don’t dwell on all of the missed opportunities and failures of the year, focus on the things that you did accomplish. Give yourself some credit and reflect on things that you are grateful for in the past year.
● Look forward to the New Year with optimism.
● Don’t set New Year’s resolutions. Instead, set goals of things you may like to accomplish during the next year. Give yourself something to look forward to rather than setting unrealistic expectations and putting on too much unnecessary pressure.
● If you want to make changes, they can start any day of the year!
If you are suffering from mental illness and are currently treated by a therapist, do not cancel your appointments due to hectic holiday stressors. Continue practicing mindfulness and reach out to others if you are having difficulty managing your symptoms.
I hope that you have all found this blog helpful or at least comforting in knowing that you are not alone dealing with holiday stress. Remember, those crazy family members are better managed in packs, so stick together!