Our culture bombards us with holiday cheer: Christmas music pipes 24 hours a day from our airwaves, nostalgic movies dripping with holiday sentiment are replayed on TV, advertisements displaying shiny, happy people celebrating the season follow us wherever we go. Yet, this time of joy and light for some often darkens into the holiday blues for others.
The American Psychological Association lists financial concerns, unrealistic expectations, and the inability to be with family and friends — whether through distance or loss — as contributing factors to holiday anxiety. Add in the stressors of shopping, family reunions, travel, houseguests, office parties, overeating and overdrinking, and no wonder there’s just a wee bit more tension with which to contend.
The trick to beating the holiday blues is to take control of the season overload instead of letting it control you.
First, remember that no one came from the perfect family, and no one has the perfect family. So throw out the unrealistic desires and expectations that whatever family function you’ll be attending will be as apple-pie sweet as that Hallmark movie you’ve just watched. It is what it is — and when that certain toxic relative starts in on you, remember that this isn’t the time to air past resentments. Stay calm, change the subject and then steer clear.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests that it’s a good idea not to overschedule yourself during the holiday season. You don’t have to attend every function, and if some traditions cause you more stress than joy, let them go.
Also, accepting that most things will not go exactly as planned will take a lot of pressure off yourself — and others. Your guests are late (or even worse, early), your casserole burns, your kid has a nasty cold and your cat just threw up all over your couch. No one expects you to be Martha Stewart, so don’t berate yourself for all the imperfect stuff of real life.
Psychology Today recommends that people fighting the holiday blues should remember to focus on healthy habits. Engaging in regular physical and mental wellness routines such as jogging, yoga, massage, spiritual practices and long walks can calm one’s mind and provide a better perspective on what’s really important. Also, they remind people not to overindulge in alcohol because overdrinking will exacerbate depression and anxiety (the same can be said for overeating the wrong foods as well).
Lastly, there is such a thing as being “under-planned” during the holidays, which can also lead to seasonal depression. If this is the case for you, consider volunteering at a homeless shelter, your local food bank, organizations that deliver goods to underprivileged families or your favorite animal shelter. The opportunities to become involved in community service are bountiful. For anyone experiencing the blues — whether during the holiday season or any other time of year — remember that helping others is the best antidote to depression.
— Tracy Shawn, M.A., is a freelance writer and author. Her debut novel is in production with Cherokee McGhee Publishing. Click here for more information about Shawn, or click here to visit her author page on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter: @TracyShawn.