The holiday season can feel like a never-ending symposium of gatherings with friends and family and afternoons spent cooking. While this time of year can be wonderful, it can also be taut with stress, anxiety and depression. Many people, perhaps all of us, can say that they have experienced a holiday that felt a little less than ideal. We all seek a picturesque holiday-- time spent with loved ones, an abundance of gift giving and receiving; and of course, a delicious holiday meal. In reality, holidays can trigger familial conflict, finances may be strained, and the holidays may be increasingly stressful for those already alone or isolated from others.
Holiday Stress Triggers
Anxiety and depression can have a myriad of causes during the holidays.
We’ve all been there. Media bombards us with images of the perfect Thanksgiving and Christmas. We feel like we need the perfect gifts, decorations, family pictures with the perfect outfits, the perfect turkey and ham, and our perfect home to be filled with endless joy and laughter. The list could go on! And when the perfect holiday falls flat from our expectations, it can be really tough.
When people come together, different opinions and backgrounds are also going to mesh together. This is absolutely a normal part of life, but that means conversation may rarely stay colloquial. The past few years have been especially political and there seems to be no avoiding a heavily debated topic. Feelings may be hurt, betrayed, or even disrespected.
Many people may not have loved ones near and the holidays can exasperate that already present loneliness. Some people may still be self-isolating and some people may be sick, confined to a hospital bed, or stuck at home under quarantine.
Finances may be strained during the holidays. Decorating, gift-giving, meals, travel, and unexpected medical bills add up quickly. The reality is that holidays are expensive and looking at the books can be disheartening.
Types of Holiday Stress
Holiday stress is considered situational. This means anxiety and depression over the holidays will come and go. Let's take a deeper examination.
The Holiday Blues
Holiday blues may start in November and last until the beginning of January. The holiday blues are a period of intense emotions due to common triggers mentioned above. Holiday blues may also be a period of painful reflection, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and not being good enough. Holiday blues may coincide with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The biggest difference between the two is that SAD typically lasts longer, is triggered by the changing seasons, and can be debilitating. The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that “64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse.” This suggests that the holiday blues and other conditions may go hand-in-hand.
Thomas Richards Ph.D, a psychologist from the Social Anxiety institute, describes social anxiety as, “the fear of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, self-consciousness, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression.” Some may experience social anxiety in their daily life and that anxiety is heightened during the holidays, though some may just experience social anxiety during the holiday season when gatherings bring together people that may not be interacted with on a regular basis. Holiday perfectionism and conflict can trigger holiday social anxiety.
Mental Health During the Holidays
When we understand what is triggering our specific type of stress we can be more equipped to manage it.
Let's discuss some ways to find inner peace and balance during the holidays.
1. Give Yourself Permission to ____.
During the holidays, give yourself permission to make choices that serve your overall well-being. For example, you can give yourself permission to rest more, to let go of expectations and obligations, to set boundaries, or permission to practice more self care. Whatever you give yourself permission to do, make sure it is in alignment with your values and mental health goals. Practicing this mindset can help you make beneficial decisions about your day-to-day life that help you enjoy the holidays more.
2. Incorporate Mindfulness Practices or Meditation
Family conflict due to differences of opinions or views is normal. This can be understandably difficult, but also be a beautiful opportunity to expand our compassion for ourselves and others. We can learn to be gentle with ourselves and others and recognize the beauty of differences in thought. Compassion can be a hard muscle to strengthen, but there are tools available that can help us practice. Consider a self-compassion meditation or a loving kindness meditation. You can easily search for either on YouTube. If you would like to have a more personalized session consider booking meditation sessions with our Meditation Specialist Nicole Lindstrom.
3. Seek out Healthy Activities
Holiday stress can lead to numbing activities such as over drinking or drug use. If the desire arises, it's important to have a coping toolkit ready to help ground you. Take a moment to write down some of your known holiday triggers. What can you give yourself permission to do in order to manage or avoid the trigger altogether? This will be different for everyone, but here are some prompts to get you started:
Talk to your boss about taking an extra hour off here and there to spend a little extra time exercising and resting.
Instead of buying gifts for everyone, do a gift exchange to help save money. Give yourself permission to buy something for yourself that is in alignment with your mental health goals.
Volunteer at a local nonprofit. Volunteering not only is fuel for the soul, but volunteering can help reduce feelings of loneliness as you connect with others.
Schedule a Vitamin D shot here at Aspen Ketamine Center. Vitamin D is an amazing vitamin that can help combat depression and boost immunity. During the winter most people tend to be low in Vitamin D due to less time spent outside.
Write down things you are proud of or thankful for. Make a separate list for things you are ready to let go of.
We hope this holiday season, your days are filled with joy. Our team at Aspen Ketamine Center cares about your happiness and we seek to equip you with powerful tools that contribute to your overall wellness. Our holiday wish is that you are well and that you remember that you are not alone. Please know you can give us a call to discuss how we can serve you this holiday season.