The holidays are upon us once again, so I thought this would be an ideal time to review some of the common problems people experience during the holidays as well as some tips for coping with these problems. The main problems people experience are increased depression (or feeling blue), feeling overwhelmed by stress and pressure, and overeating.
Holiday depression is common and perhaps up to 10 percent of the population suffers from it to some degree or another. It is usually related to the holiday season because it brings back memories of a happier time in our lives. We may remember spending past holidays with a loved one who is no longer with us. Or we may get depressed by seeing so many others who have someone special in their lives — whether it be their family, close friends, or a significant other — to share the season with. Or it may be a combination of these things and others, such as dealing with an ongoing mental disorder.
Stress is increased during the holidays due to a number of factors as well. Old family arguments are often reignited during the holidays, lines are longer everywhere you go shopping, parking spaces are impossible to find, and you often must schedule your life to try and get to three places all at the same time.
Overeating is another common holiday-related problem. With an abundance of food and drink available for many family gatherings, it is often the case where we overeat. Many people also use overeating as a way of coping with the increased stress or feelings of depression during this time of the year.
Whatever the reason for suffering from these problems, there are some things you can do to try to ward them off, or at least minimize their impact in your life. The holidays are first and foremost a time of spirituality and a recognition of special religious events. Often this may be a good time to renew your spiritual beliefs and spend more time in contemplation of religion and spirituality. If you haven’t been to church or synagogue in years, for instance, now may be a good time to think about going again. I don’t think spirituality alone has all the answers to any of the world’s problems or people’s personal problems. But it can be an important aspect to understanding your life, your motivations, and your relationships with others.
Beyond spirituality, you can consider turning to those activities and hobbies which have often helped you in the past. This may mean volunteering more time at a local hospital or nursing home. Or devoting more time to writing, sewing, woodworking, fixing up things around the house, going to the library, reading, or any of a number of other activities. The point here is to try to keep your mind focused on those things which bring you pleasure and which you enjoy doing. This is certainly no “cure-all,” but it can be a helpful thing to try to do more of. If public places remind you of sad feelings or memories, you may just want to avoid them as much as possible this holiday season.
There are other things a person can do to keep away from the holiday blues. Hanging out with friends or family members which don’t have sad or negative emotions attached to them may be helpful. If not in the real world, then you may also consider spending more time online in a support group or chat area which is to your liking. Spending more time with friends can also keep your mind off of your depression and negative emotions. Some people avoid doing this, though, for fear of bringing the group of friends down with their mood. This is unlikely to happen in most groups and more likely than not, they will bring your mood up by the togetherness.
Obviously if you are suffering from a mental disorder which is worsened by the stress or additional emotions brought about by the holidays, you should look into increasing your coping skills. This can be done on your own, or you can ask your therapist to talk more about these and find ones which work best for you. The key here is to let your therapist know what you need to work on at this time of the year, and then proceed to work on it. If you’re not currently in psychotherapy and your problems are beginning to pile up on you, you may want to seriously consider participating in psychotherapy to help you at this time of the year.
Overeating during the holidays is almost encouraged and an acceptable part of the holiday tradition. Contributing to weight gain around this time of the year is our tendency to isolate ourselves and close ourselves up in our homes and apartments during the winter months because of the weather. This isolation can easily lead to bodily feelings of laziness, sluggishness, and difficulty concentrating. (Some of these are actually symptoms of depression as well.) Exercising regularly helps a person feel good about themselves as well as giving your body a helpful workout. It may also help to accept a certain amount of weight gain which is normal and natural during this time of the year. Accepting that gain rather trying to fight it or feel guilty about it will help relieve some of the pressure and stress often associated with the holidays. There will always be time in the future to lose the weight. And for obvious reasons, starting a new diet or exercise plan around the holidays is not a great idea.
Last, you can help reduce the amount of stress you feel and the likelihood of resorting to some inappropriate coping skills by removing yourself from situations which increase the stress. If getting together with certain family members make you feel bad every year, why not simply limit the time you spend with them to a few hours this holiday season? Make other plans and arrangements to spend more time with the people (friends, other family members, etc.) that you do enjoy spending time with. Nobody says you must spend a great deal of time rude, obnoxious, or mean people, just because they are your family. If you control the time you spend in such situations, then you are in better control this holiday season of your emotions and the amount of stress you will have to face.
Additional tips offered from the book, When Holidays Are Hell: A Guide to Surviving Family Gatherings (by Mariana Caplan) include:
- Temper your expectations. The notion of the “perfect” reunion can set you up for frustration and depression.
- Call a friend if the family setting becomes unpleasant.
- Take heed of alcohol consumption. It may seem relaxing in the short term, but its physiological effect can compound stress and depression.
- Set comfortable limits. Determine how involved and accommodating your plans should be well in advance, and make your limits known to others involved.
- Reach out to those with whom you have healthy, nurturing relationships. Get together with friends if a family setting is not feasible.
- Change gift-giving procedures. Consider putting a limit of one gift per person.
There is no quick cure here, or easy method you can use to ward off holiday depression, stress or overeating which is guaranteed. However, I hope that some of these things may be helpful to you during this stressful and possibly upsetting time of the year.