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Friday, December 14, 2012

Holiday Stress and Depression

For some, the holidays bring unwelcome guests – stress and depression.
Due to unrealistic efforts to pull off a perfect Hallmark holiday, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the competing demands of work, parties, baking, cleaning, kids on school break, and out-of-town trips or visitors.

Holiday stress typically has three main trigger points: Relationships, Finances, and Physical Demands. While relationships can cause turmoil at any time; with heightened tensions during the holiday season, family misunderstandings and conflicts can intensify. If you have an expectation that difficult relationships will improve just because it’s the holidays, you are likely to be disappointed. Nothing magical “just happens” during the holiday season. Try to accept family members and friends as they are and practice forgiveness.

Additionally, if you have had a recent loss, the holidays may increase feelings of loneliness or sadness. You may want to avoid some of the festivities because they are so out of sync with how you’re feeling. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holidays. Try to tell those around you what you really need, since they may not know how to help. Consider volunteering at a community or religious function. Getting involved and helping others can lift your spirits.

Like relationships, finances can be a stress at any time and given the current financial uncertainties and fears, this year may be particularly difficult. Overspending during the holidays is a national habit. The sticker shock after the gifts, travel and entertainment expenses can create a financial spiral that can result in depression symptoms such as hopelessness, sadness and helplessness. Not exceeding your budget is important. When shopping, look for how you can show love and caring with something meaningful and personal that doesn’t cost a lot. Other alternatives are to donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.

The strain of shopping, preparing meals, entertaining, and social commitments is physically exhausting. Over commitments, lack of exercise, and overindulgence in unhealthy food and drink choices contribute to the physical stress of the holidays. Learn to say no and forget about perfection. Ask for help. Plan ahead and do as much as you can in advance. Take time out. Eat well, get enough rest, and make time for yourself. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Pace yourself and prioritize the important activities.

Children love the holidays but they too can feel stress, especially if parents are stressed. Reducing kids’ holiday stress is similar to minimizing your own. Stick with routine as much as possible and make sure your children eat nutritious foods and get enough rest and exercise. Families can work together to relieve holiday stress by making time for family fun and sharing the holiday chores so that the whole family is involved. Children have to learn that their wish is not someone’s command and to curb their desires for instant gratification. Make a family vow that this year you’ll get back to the real essence of the holidays.

Practicing good self care during any time of stress is essential. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings and find activities that are enjoyable. Examine your expectations and make sure they’re realistic. Don’t worry too much about details – live in the moment as much as possible and look for meaningful experiences throughout the season. Many people dread the holidays because their inner experience is so different from what is being hyped. While maybe not “the most wonderful time of the year” the holidays can be a time for reflection, joy and to reconnect with friends and family.

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