It’s the final stretch until Christmas, and if your complaints of the season are outweighing the joys, you’re probably suffering from holiday stress.
“That’s definitely one way to know that you’re under stress,” said Shiloh Jiwanlal, a clinical nurse specialist with Via Christi Behavioral Health Center.
Holiday stress can lead to or worsen depression.
“For some people – with there being a societal expectation of this being the most wonderful time of the year – it can be the most difficult,” said Kristin Goodheart, a psychologist in the west Wichita offices of Prairie View, a mental health services provider.
Here are some ways to help cope with holiday stress:
Look after yourself. Setting aside time for yourself can help keep your spirits up. “Take time to do something you enjoy every day,” Goodheart said.
It’s a concept some people struggle with at this time of year because they are often focused on doing something for others or don’t feel they have time to spare for a massage, a book or a favorite TV show or movie, she said.
Keep up healthy habits such as getting adequate sleep, eating balanced meals and moderating alcohol intake, Jiwanlal said. A good night’s sleep, a healthy diet and some physical activity, such as a yoga class or a walk in the park, will keep you rejuvenated to take on any extra obligations and activities during the season.
Stay in control. A person can only change what he or she can control, Jiwanlal advises. That includes your holiday party schedule, your holiday gift list and perhaps, most importantly, your perspective.
“If you enjoy making holiday meals or giving gifts, don’t put weight on getting the accolades, because then you’ve given away control,” she said. It’s better for your mental health to take satisfaction in doing those activities rather than basing your happiness on the response you’ll get.
One way to stay in control of your holiday finances — often a big source of holiday stress — is to make gift-giving more about the thought than the price involved, say mental health and relationship experts.
“Sometimes your gifts are not something that you can touch or feel, but they are about making memories,” Jiwanlal said. Baking together, reading a book to a child or writing a heartfelt note to share how much a relationship means can be just as special as a gift under the tree, she said.
Many people often don’t recall a particular gift they received but they do recall a special memory from a Christmas past.
Be realistic. If your family has relationship problems through the year, those problems likely aren’t going to be resolved during a holiday visit, Jiwanlal said.
As you prepare for the holidays, be realistic about your expectations and what you can accomplish, advised Jiwanlal and Goodheart.
“Not everything has to be greeting-card perfect,” said Goodheart.
Say no. Getting bogged down by too many parties, too many gifts on the list and too many commitments can be a sure-fire way to bring on holiday complaints and stress.
“You don’t have to do everything that you did in previous years,” Goodheart said. “It’s OK to leave a party early or to not go this year. Balance is really important.” Keeping that balance may mean saying no to certain obligations, events or activities so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
Be aware. Holiday depression can be triggered by life events and situations: the loss of a loved one, feeling you’ve become a burden, struggling with weight gain.
Try to anticipate what may bring you down and try to plan for how you can manage that situation, Jiwanlal said.
“Sometimes you may need someone else to help you recognize” how those life events may be affecting you during the holiday season, she said.
That’s why it’s vital to have a support system, say mental health experts. If you doesn’t have friends or family around, consider volunteering or joining a club. That’s something that can be done at any time of the year to keep your spirits up.
Get help if you need it. If holiday stress leads to depression or worsens it, see a doctor or mental health provider.
According to Goodheart, the following symptoms may indicate depression:
• Low mood, increased irritation, quick to anger
• Difficulty concentrating or focusing
• Withdrawing from family and friends
• Not finding pleasure in things one once enjoyed
• Weight loss or gain
• Sleeping too much or too little.
At a recent women’s wellness event, Connie Marsh, a physician with Via Christi Behavioral Health Center, noted that by 2020 depression will be the second leading cause of disability, second only to heart disease.