I probably don’t have to tell you we’re approaching the most stressful time of year. While the holidays can be lovely and full of joy, they can also be a trigger for anxiety and depression. Let’s take a look at the signs and symptoms of depression and well as tips on coping with the pressures of the holidays. I hope you can maintain healthy habits and advocate for yourself and your family so you can ring in the new year as a bona fide Health Hero™.
There are many reasons to feel stress this time of year. Just think of all the obligations: juggling numerous social events, entertaining (including cooking and cleaning), shopping for gifts, spending loads of money that we may or may not have, and, of course, getting along with family. It’s probably no surprise that family is reported as the biggest source of stress and anxiety during this season (1).
If you’ve fought clinical depression in the past, the holiday season can be an especially dangerous trigger. For one, the seasonal time change can contribute to depressive disorders as it disrupts your sleep, decreases your energy, and contributes to overall feelings of sadness and disinterest in your normal routine (1). With all the holiday parties, it’s also common for people to drink a little more than normal. Be aware that alcoholism is a major pitfall that can trigger or worsen depression. Similarly, overeating can be a problem and, for some, can lead to worsening self-esteem.
Signs of Major Depression
The holidays can highlight changes in your life, bring up unhappy memories, or pit you against “toxic relatives” (3). And if you’ve recently experienced a tragedy, death, or breakup, then you may be even more vulnerable to the holiday blues. While this time of year can be mentally rough for many people, it can push some of us over the edge. Pay attention to these signs of major depression:
Negative feelings: sadness, discouragement, depression, apathy
Loss of interest in activities you formerly enjoyed
Weight gain or weight loss
Loss of energy
Feelings of hopelessness or inadequacy
Difficulty thinking clearly or making decisions
Persistent thoughts of death or suicide
Withdrawal from others
Lack of interest in sex (1)
Coping Tips for the Holidays
The first bit of advice I offer is this: Lower your expectations and plan ahead. Prepare yourself—you know what’s coming—and be realistic about what you can reasonably accomplish. If the social aspect of the holidays makes you anxious, commit only to activities you enjoy. It’s okay if you don’t feel festive, but let the people closest to you know that this time of year is hard for you. And if you can set aside grievances you have with family during the holiday period, it will alleviate a tremendous burden.
Even if you enjoy socializing, saying no to some invitations is wiser than overstraining your schedule. A packed holiday schedule can ultimately result in feeling rushed or burdened to socialize with more people than usual. It can also pull you into a risky routine that compromises your self-care through a lack of sleep, exercise, and time for yourself.
To avoid sinking into depressive thoughts, make sure to focus on your own healthy habits during the holiday season. Get enough sleep and practice good nutrition, at least most of the time. In other words, don’t overindulge too often! Also, try to squeeze in some form of exercise. In fact, the best remedy for the time change is to get out for a walk in the fresh morning air.
Plan your schedule ahead of time and include “appointments” on your calendar for shopping, cooking, and visiting friends. Make your grocery and gift lists ahead of time to help you remember important items. Organize any additional support you may need for that rockin’ party you plan on throwing this year. Stick to a budget both for food and gift shopping, and maybe even suggest alternative approaches to gift giving, such as homemade items or a family gift exchange (4).
Finally, take some time for yourself. Read a book or perhaps even schedule a massage. And if you are still feeling anxious or depressed, you may want to seek out some professional help. Your doctor or a mental health professional will understand how hard this time of year is, and he or she will help you get back on the path of becoming a Health Hero™.