The month of November marks the kickoff of several weeks of holiday festivities. The season ignites the spirit of giving and kindles perpetual cheer, right? Unfortunately, for many people, the holidays are a source of anxiety, stress and even sadness.
Holidays can be costly, frantic and full of unmet expectations. For some, holidays may be a reminder of losses — of a loved one, of a relationship, of physical abilities. Even normal transitions, such as children growing up, can seem like losses during times when families dream of being together.
By understanding what causes the blues, and that some of it is normal, it’s easier to manage these difficult feelings rather than let them overwhelm us.
Managing the holiday blues
Now that we are on this runaway train into Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year celebrations, here are some tips to try to derail any unexpected anxiety or sadness:
- Accept that there may be times of sadness and allow yourself to experience them, in moderation. Understanding that these feelings are temporary can help make them easier to get through.
- Don't dwell on the past. Try not to compare yourself to others or focus on what’s missing in your life.
- Create new holiday traditions. Think about being happy today and help others find joy in the holidays.
- Be good to yourself. Spend time with a friend or do something you enjoy. This will evoke confidence in your ability to make it through any tough holiday times.
- Don’t overdo. Excess spending and overindulging all contribute to stress. Avoid spending too much on gifts or celebrations. Make a budget and follow it. And remember, some of the best things in life cost nothing.
- Recognize your stress and sadness triggers and attempt to divert your efforts to something positive.
- Be realistic. Set Limits. Take something off the list in order to focus on one thing you really want and enjoy. And remember, the holidays don’t have to be perfect.
- Practice good health habits: eat right, get plenty of rest, and exercise regularly.
- Organize your time. Make lists and prioritize to avoid the anxiety of not feeling prepared.
- Do something for someone else. This helps take the focus off you and helps you feel fulfilled. Donate to a charity or help at a children’s party.
Knowing when it’s more than holiday stress
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the blues can become severe and rarely subside for weeks or longer. This could be what has traditionally been known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). While roughly 20 percent of the population experiences a mild form of the holiday blues, it’s estimated that 5 percent will experience SAD. This illness can be debilitating.
- Difficulty sleeping — too much or too little
- Little-to-no interest in leisure activities that you usually enjoy
- Experiencing decreased energy
- Trouble concentrating
- Changes in appetite — increase or decrease
- Feelings of sadness or depression for the majority of the day, on most days
- Frequent thoughts of self-harm or suicide
If you feel you may be suffering from SAD or any other form of depression, don’t delay getting the help you need. Seek assistance from your healthcare provider or a mental health professional.
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