There are a lot of expectations around the holiday season. One is the expectation that you will feel JOY! For many people suffering from anxiety and depression, the pressure to feel joyful at this time of year might seem overwhelming. Studies have shown that close to half of people surveyed say their stress levels increase at holiday time. Feeling depressed or especially anxious during the holidays can be tough, particularly since you feel out of step with those around you. Everyone else seems to be excited, festive, and full of holiday spirit…while you’re feeling miserable and exhausted. Here are some ways to cope with these feelings and take care of yourself throughout this season.
Do something different. If the prospect of the same old routine is filling you with dread, make a different plan. Have a family meal at a restaurant. Stay in your PJs all day. Spend the holiday at a favorite travel destination…maybe a mountain cabin or even a campground (finances and weather permitting). Go see a movie or a show on Christmas Day. Mix things up.
Forget things that really don’t matter much. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t decorate as much as in years past. You can also lighten your load on gift giving by choosing gift cards for the special people in your life this year. You can offer store-bought treats instead of slaving away in the kitchen. Just give yourself a break! Worrying about so many things will not make your holidays any happier. And the people who love you would rather you be relaxed than stressed out, trying to make things perfect.
Don’t overbook yourself. The holidays can actually last for a few months. Pace yourself and give yourself permission to say “No” to invitations if you need to. Think about which events will fit into your schedule, and which ones you really want to attend. Once you’re there, don’t stay longer than you want to. You are not obligated to stay any longer than feels comfortable to you. Even if you just drop by for a few minutes to say hello, you have made people happy by showing up. Knowing you have a plan to leave can really ease your anxiety.
Find positive ways to remember loved ones who are no longer here. Holidays may remind you of the people you miss, but instead of just feeling sad, do something to celebrate their memory. For instance, you might decide to crank up the grill and barbeque a spread of delicious food for your extended family, just as your father would have done. Drink a toast to him and remark on how much he would have loved the meal.
Keep your expectations modest. Try not to get hung up on what the holidays are supposed to be and how you’re supposed to feel. Don’t compare your experience to anything else…just take the days as they come and appreciate the moments for what they mean to you.
Surround yourself with a strong support system. Being around those who care most about you during the holidays can help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Try hard not to isolate yourself. Keeping your support system close during the holidays will ensure you have someone available to talk to if you need them.
Seek professional help if you need it. Stay honest with yourself. If your symptoms are escalating, seek help from your doctor right away. Make sure you have a doctor or counselor you trust that you can share your feelings with and who will help you decide on the right treatment plan.