The holiday season is usually one of joy and excitement, but for many, there is also the very real reality of dealing with a need to reduce Christmas stress, depression and anxiety. Here are some facts and tips on how to reduce Christmas stress, depression and anxiety so you can have a great holiday this year.
While it may be a myth that the holidays mark the peak of depression and anxiety for those who suffer from mental illness, the social and financial pressures of the Christmas season greatly impact individuals who are already stressed out and struggling.
Here are some of the reasons why the holidays can really get us down, and how we can practice self-care while being compassionate toward the struggles our loved ones are going through.
Milestones encourage self-reflection
The holidays, particularly the New Year, tend to make us reflect on the passage of time, and those who are already suffering from depression tend to focus more on perceived failure, disregarding progress and positive experiences.
For example, a man who cut down from two packs a day to just a few cigarettes in the evening won't recognize the progress he made since his last New Year's Resolution, even though his family and friends have told him how proud they are that he cut back so dramatically.
Rather than make a list of New Year's Resolutions this year, focus on making note of achievements, no matter how small. When we train our minds to seek out the positives in our lives, we're not as likely to get caught up in the negatives.
Perceived loneliness is enhanced
When we don't have as many social or familial connections, it's difficult to see our neighbors' homes full of visitors and holiday cheer. We might get two or three Christmas cards, while our roommate has enough to wallpaper the hall.
What are your options for spending time with people during the holidays? Your family (or lack thereof) isn't your only option. Community center activities and volunteer opportunities are always there as a fallback if you can't round up a group of buddies (or mere acquaintances) for an "Orphan Christmas Potluck".
We revert to unhealthy family dynamics
"I'm a horrible dad, sighs the single father who has spent the past year getting his learning-disabled daughter into the right school programs, when criticized by his own mother for letting certain manners "slide" at holiday gatherings. Criticism from anyone else would have been rebuffed by the young father, but we as human beings often place too high a value on others' opinions of us, especially when those "others" are our parents or people we know we should hold in high regard, even if they don't deserve it.
Sometimes, we're our own worst critics, especially when we use our siblings as the standard of success.
For example, rather than take pride in her success in keeping her children happy, fed and loved, a single mother feels guilty that her own kids are getting less spectacular Christmas gifts than their cousins this year.
What she might not realize is that her brother and sister-in-law are swimming in debt, and over-extend themselves each year to keep up appearances.
Weather and limited sunlight restrict exercise
Christmas falls at the darkest time of the year, and the shorter days and winter weather can hamper our access to fresh air, sunlight, and exercise, all which impact our mental health. Holiday parties also mean increased alcohol consumption and a lot of unhealthy food, negatively affecting our digestive system and brain chemistry.
Some people with body-image issues and anxieties directly related to food find the holidays a particularly trying time. Last year's holiday clothes don't fit as well, and the dreaded Family Holiday Photo can trigger negative thoughts and heighten anxiety.
We miss those we've lost
The holidays remind us of loved ones who have passed on, or with whom we've lost touch. Christmas carols, special ornaments, or a favorite holiday movie can trigger grief and melancholy. We might think our parents are so engrossed with their grandchildren that they aren't feeling the deep sense of loss over a spouse or best friend. We may not even anticipate how profoundly we'll feel the loss of a beloved pet the first Christmas we spend without him.
Encourage your family and friends to share their feelings about loved ones they may be missing. It's helpful to let them voice their feelings, and honor their rightful place in their memories.
Don't feel like a "downer" if you need to share your own loss. Talking about our emotions helps us heal.
Celebrate a season of compassion
The holiday season is full of pressure to give material gifts, make appearances at all the right gatherings, and be on our best behavior when celebrating with people we might not choose to share our time with otherwise.
It's a time of year when we're vulnerable to old wounds and sometimes insensitive to the hurt felt by those around us.
It's a time of year when travel, shopping, tying up loose ends at the office and meeting family obligations can wear us thin.
The best we can do to look after our own mental health, and be compassionate toward that of our loved ones and friends, is to practice mindfulness as we enter the Christmas season. Take deep breaths, acknowledge our feelings, and be open to listening to others as they reach out.
You might want to work with a therapist or coach to strengthen personal boundaries, especially those related to family relationships. The best gift you can give your loved ones is your own wellness and health.
To learn more about CareSync and its support for individuals, family members, and caregivers, please visit our website.