Mental Health Is Not Something to Take for Granted: How to Manage Depression and Stress During the Holidays
How to Manage Depression and Stress During the Holidays
Stress and depression can occur at any time of year, and for any reason. We have seen some of our favorite entertainers leave us over the past few years due to depression. Mental health is not something to take for granted, or to sweep under the rug. Depression can happen to anyone – even those individuals whom you think “have it all.”
There is no time more important to focus on emotional well-being than around the holidays. Autumn brings cooler weather, pumpkins, turkeys, and holiday decorations. There is no doubt that by the time October says goodbye that the holiday season is in full swing.
Unfortunately, not everyone shares these joyous feelings as the year comes to a close. Many factors can contribute to increased depression and stress, including:
- Financial restrictions – present shopping, travel expenses, added cost of holiday meals
- Having to socialize with co-workers, friends, or family members
- Houseguests who come to visit or stay too long
- Overloaded calendars
- Overeating or too much alcohol consumption
- Loneliness due to being single, a recent divorce, or loss of a loved one
- Expectations of others
- Health concerns and navigating special needs during the holidays
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
What is SAD and How Do I Know If I Have It?
Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs during the winter months when days grow shorter. With fewer hours of sunlight, some people experience a type of depression that can start in the fall and continue until the spring or early summer.
Also termed the “winter blues,” SAD can interfere with work, school, and home life. Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:
- Fatigue or low energy
- Weight gain
- Changes in appetite
- Excessive sleepiness or oversleeping
- Feeling agitated, depressed, or stressed
- Impaired concentration
- Loss of interest in activities and socialization
- Suicidal thoughts or thinking about death
SAD occurs more frequently in females than males, and in younger rather than older adults, although it can happen to anyone. Treatment for SAD includes phototherapy (light therapy), psychotherapy, and medications. Trying to get outside during the day for more sunlight can help mild cases of seasonal affective disorder. Do not hesitate to seek medical help if the symptoms of SAD do not decrease or if they become more severe.
Coping with Holiday and End of the Year Stress and Depression
It is easy to feel overwhelmed as the holidays approach. Traveling is stressful any time of the year, but when you add managing traveling with a child with special needs and accessibility options, it can take it to a new level during the holiday rush. Plan ahead, arrive early, and come prepared with snacks, activities, and medications.
As a parent or caregiver, your mental health must be a primary focus in your life. If you feel as though you are at the end of your rope, you cannot give your best to your family.
Here are some pointers for coping with stress and depression:
❖ It is more important now to avoid alcohol and other addictive substances that can worsen your issues or cloud your judgment. Overeating is another concern during the holidays that can lead to weight gain resulting in further depression. Using exercise as a tool to deal with stress is a much better option than turning to alcohol or food. Exercise provides you with energy, improves hormone production, releases crucial endorphins into the bloodstream, and helps you sleep better at night.
❖ In our monthly column for working parents, we feature an article called “How to Deal with the Stress of Balancing Career and a Special Needs Child” where you will find many tips for reducing stress.
❖ It is also important to take a good look at your expectations. Are you unreasonable in what you want to accomplish? Prioritize your time and activities. Be realistic in what you can do and pace yourself. Enlist the help of others. Yes, a task may not be done to your level of expertise, but does that really matter? Let go of your expectations and allow yourself to enjoy the season and any ensuing festivities.
❖ Do not think about the past. Life moves on, and it is essential to focus on today. Comparing where you are at today to happier or less stressful times will only worsen your feelings of depression.
❖ Remember a meaningful phrase – this too shall pass. As with everything in life, this moment will soon be in the past. Focus on getting through the situation so that you can move on to what comes next.
❖ Even if money is tight this year, know that many other people are in the same situation. There are many ways to celebrate the holidays for free, such as driving around and looking at holiday decorations. Put up homemade decorations around your house. You and your children can even use old newspapers and macaroni to make festive decorations. Be creative with your time and what you have at hand. The sense of accomplishment that you will feel is a good mood booster.
❖ Make a budget and stick to it. You do not want to carry this depression forward into the new year with the dread of credit card bills that you cannot pay. Be honest with others and do not allow anyone to force you to spend more than you feel comfortable spending.
❖ Set boundaries and communicate with family members who tend to cause you added stress. Enlist the aid of a trusted relative or friend to keep those who stress you out at a distance if need be.
❖ Create new traditions. This is especially important when the loss of a loved one is tied to a specific event. You do not have to forget them, but you also want to focus on something new. Incorporate old traditions into new ones.
One of the hardest things to do when you are feeling overwhelmed is to turn your focus to gratitude. Every cloud has a silver lining – sometimes you just need to wait until the storm passes or look a bit deeper for it. Try to look at the cup as being half full rather than half empty. A simple change of perspective can go a long way in life.
Never hesitate to seek out the help of a trained professional if you feel you are in over your head. There is always someone who can help you. As this year comes to a close, think about what you want to accomplish in the coming year. Make your list, check it twice, and start to look forward to what lies ahead.
FREE DOWNLOAD: PSN Holiday Tip Guide
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This post originally appeared on our November/December 2018 Magazine