Home for the Holidays
Tips for overcoming holiday anxiety and stress.
Tips for Beating Holiday Stress
Once you’ve taken a clear look at the holidays -- about what works and what
doesn’t -- it’s time to make some changes. Focus on the holiday stresses that
you can control. That includes making different plans and changing your
responses to situations. Here are four key don’ts for the holidays.
- Don’t do the same old thing. If the usual family gathering is
causing holiday stress, try something else. If you’re too overwhelmed to host,
discuss other possibilities with family members. Maybe a sibling could have the
dinner this year.
- Don’t expect miracles. If your holiday anxiety stems from a deeper
history of family conflict, don’t expect that you’ll be able to resolve any big
underlying issues now. Sure, it’s supposed to be a season of forgiveness and
good will. But in the midst of a hectic holiday season, you can’t pin your
hopes on leading family members to big emotional breakthroughs. You may be
better off focusing on your own state of mind and confronting difficult issues
during a less volatile time of year.
- Don’t overdo it. To reduce holiday stress, you have to pace
yourself. Long before the family gatherings actually happen, decide on some
limits and stick to them. Stay one or two nights at your parents’ house instead
of three or four. Plan to drop by the holiday party for a couple of hours
instead of staying all night.
- Don’t worry about how things should be. “There’s a lot of cultural
pressure during the holidays,” says Duckworth. “We tend to compare ourselves
with these idealized notions of perfect families and perfect holidays.” But in
fact, most people have less than perfect holiday gatherings -- they have family
tension, melancholy, and dry turkey too. If you have negative feelings, don’t
try to deny them. Remember that there’s nothing wrong or shameful or unusual
about feeling down during the holidays.
Depression During the Holidays: Getting Help
For many people battling holiday stress, changing expectations and behavior
can make a big difference. But not always. David Dunner, MD, director of the
Center for Anxiety and Depression in Mercer Island, Wash., says that sometimes
the apparent connections between the holidays and depression may just be
“I tend to take a fairly agnostic approach toward the cause of depression
because I’m never sure what it really is,” says Dunner. “Even though it might
seem like that the holiday trip to Cleveland to see family is what’s making you
feel down, it could have nothing to do with it.” Seasonal affective disorder
(SAD), a medical condition, a drug side effect, or something else entirely
could be the real culprit.
Dunner also worries that some people may write off signs of serious
depression as mere holiday stress. It’s unwise -- even dangerous -- to ignore
depression symptoms for weeks or months in the hopes that they’ll just
disappear come January.
So while holiday stress may be seasonal, depression can be year-round. If
your holiday anxiety seems severe or is interfering with your job or home life,
talk to your doctor or to a counselor.