While the holidays can be filled with joy, the season can also be filled with anxiety and stress.
Christmas is right around the corner, and while it is the season to be jolly, some of us may be having a harder time trying to do so.
Stress and depression can ruin not only your holidays but also hurt your health.
Psychologist Dr. John Lusins of the Bayview Behavioral Hospital says people can suffer from stress, anxiety and depression throughout the year. But those feelings can intensify around the holidays.
“This time of year can heighten symptoms of depression, and even though people might not have regular depression day by day, the expectations of the holidays sometimes lead to worsening,” Lusins said.
There is not exactly a Holiday Depression Disorder, but there is a name for those feelings. It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder.
“It has pretty much all the same symptoms of major Depression Disorder; it just occurs during the holiday season,” said Lusins.
No matter the reason, Lusins says it’s important for loved ones to recognize the signs and for those suffering from depression to avoid isolation and get the help they need.
“The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and seasonal depression are very similar to major depressive disorder. This includes increase irritability, decreased ability to sleep, more anxiety, sadness, loss of interest, loss of energy, and at times, people can start to feel worthless, hopeless, and of course the worse would be starting to feel suicidal,” said Lusins.
Just remember, there’s always somebody that is willing to listen to you.
“Reach out to others and talk to somebody; reach out to a friend for coffee. There are so many expectations that come with the holidays to be perfect, to have the right gifts, it doesn’t have to be that way. The most important thing is that you are okay and that is all that matters,” Lusins said.
If you are struggling with depression and are thinking about harming yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living.
Take control of the holidays
Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.
Although depression may occur only once during your lifetime, people typically have multiple episodes. During these episodes, symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day and may include:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
- Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
For many people with depression, symptoms usually are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities or relationships with others. Some people may feel generally miserable or unhappy without really knowing why.
Tips to prevent holiday stress and depression
When stress is at its peak, it’s hard to stop and regroup.
Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.
- Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
- Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
- Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
- Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too
- Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.
Try these alternatives
- Donate to a charity in someone’s name.
- Give homemade gifts.
- Start a family gift exchange.
6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
7. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
8. Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.
Try these suggestions
- Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.
9. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
- Some options may include:
- Taking a walk at night and stargazing.
- Listening to soothing music.
- Getting a massage.
- Reading a book.
10. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
When to see a doctor
If you feel depressed, make an appointment to see your doctor or mental health professional as soon as you can. If you’re reluctant to seek treatment, talk to a friend or loved one, any health care professional, a faith leader, or someone else you trust.
When to get emergency help
If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also, consider these options if you’re having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your doctor or mental health professional.
- Call a suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(1-800-273-8255). Use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If you have a loved one who is in danger of suicide or has made a suicide attempt, make sure someone stays with that person.
Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.