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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 coincidental.

“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.

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Reviewed on October 01, 2008

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