Bah Humbug! How many times have you thought or heard these (or similar) words spoken during the holiday season? What was meant to be a time of fun and enjoyment has increasingly become a time of stress and depression for many people.
What factors lead to holiday burnout and depression?
The number one factor contributing to holiday depression is stress. Unrealistic expectations, over-commercialization, financial constraints, family tensions, or inability to be with family and loved ones; shopping, decorating and gift wrapping; and planning meals and preparing for guests all contribute to the stress and fatigue of the season. Current national anxieties associated with terrorism, the threat of war, and a wavering economy compound our stressors this year.
Post-holiday depression may include any of the following: disappointment that our expectations for the holiday were not met, sadness over family relations that were tense or at least less than hoped for, concern about paying bills for holiday purchases, or discouragement over unfulfilled hopes and dreams from the preceding year, all shared with the hang-over of holiday stress and fatigue.
Aside from depression what other responses are symptomatic of holiday stress?
Physical stress responses include: headache, excessive drinking, over-eating and either difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much.
How can I control holiday stress and depression?
The National Mental Health Association recommends the following steps to control holiday stress and depression:
q Keep expectations for the holiday season manageable. Try to set realistic goals for yourself. Pace yourself. Organize your time. Make a list and prioritize the important activities. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Do not put your entire focus on one day…remember it is a season of holiday sentiment and activities can be spread out (time-wise) to lessen stress and increase enjoyment.
q Remember the holiday season does not banish reasons for feeling sad or lonely; there is room for these feelings to be present, even if the person chooses not to express them.
q Leave “yesteryear” in the past and look toward the future. Life brings changes. Each season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Don’t set yourself up in comparing today with “the good ol’ days.”
q Do something for someone else. Try volunteering some time to help others.
q Enjoy activities that are free, such as driving around to look at holiday decorations; going window-shopping without buying; making a snow person with children (this one may require a trip to the mountains for us North Westerners!).
q Be aware that excessive drinking will only increase your feeling of depression.
q Try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a new way.
q Spend time with supportive and caring people. Reach out and make new friends or contact someone you have not heard from for awhile.
q Save time for yourself! Recharge your batteries! Let others share responsibility for activities.
What influence does the weather have?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition in which lack of sunlight negatively impacts mood states. If you notice a predictable downturn in your mood each winter you may want to be evaluated for this disorder which is treatable with photo-therapy.
What if holiday depression carries over into the New Year?
If holiday depression goes beyond the first couple weeks of the New Year and you notice yourself feeling helpless and hopeless, don’t suffer in silence. Seek professional help.