By TRACY SHAWN, MA
(This article was first published in PsychCentral.com)
For those of us who suffer from anxiety or depression, the holiday season can prove especially challenging. The juxtaposition of unhappy thoughts alongside the cheery Christmas music, nostalgic movies dripping with holiday sentimentality, and advertisements displaying jubilant people celebrating the season can make us feel even worse.
The American Psychological Association lists financial concerns, unrealistic expectations, and the inability to be with certain family members and friends as contributing factors to holiday anxiety. Mix in the stressors of shopping, family reunions, travel, office parties, and dealing with houseguests, and no wonder this seasonal “cheer” can be a land mine.
Below are five tips on how to navigate the holiday season when you are also dealing with ongoing anxiety and depression:
1. Acknowledge your feelings. According to the Mayo Clinic article on stress management, one of the first steps in dealing with holiday stress is to express your true feelings. If you need to, take time out to cry or share your feelings with a trusted family member or friend. Remember that you cannot force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season. It’s okay to feel and express what is going on inside of you.
2. Keep your schedule sane. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America suggests that it’s a helpful idea not to overschedule during the holidays. Remember that you can control the seasonal overload instead of letting it control you. You do not have to attend every function, and when you do, it may help to arrive late and leave early. And if some traditions cause you more stress and unhappiness than joy, consider changing them or even letting them go altogether.
3. Maintain realistic expectations. Remember that no one has the perfect family, so toss out the unrealistic wishes and expectations that whatever family function you attend will be as pumpkin-pie sweet as that Hallmark movie you’ve just watched. Instead, realize that, yes, you will probably have to deal with some of the same old family dynamics that push your buttons. Remember that this isn’t the time to air past resentments. Stay calm, change the subject, and then steer clear. You can always wait to sort through your feelings over the phone with an understanding friend after you get home, or even to the blissfully nonjudgmental ear of your dog or cat.
4. Focus on healthy habits. Although the holiday season can throw us off schedule, it’s important to maintain healthy habits. Engaging in regular physical and mental wellness routines such as jogging, yoga, spiritual practices and long walks can calm one’s mind and provide a better prospective on what’s really important. Also, think twice about overindulging in alcohol. Overdrinking has been shown to exacerbate both depression and anxiety.
5. Create a comfort zone. This one is a personal favorite that I have practiced for many years. I have discovered that if I consciously plan a calming activity after a stressful social event, it helps me feel a lot less anxious both during and after that event. So, think about something soothing that you can look forward to immediately after coming back from social functions that may leave you feeling drained. It helps that much more to know that when your in-laws guilt-trip you about not visiting enough, you can picture yourself in just an hour or two lounging on your couch and watching a comedy or snuggling under the covers and reading a great book.
Tracy Shawn, M.A. lives and writes on the Central Coast of California. Her award-winning novel “The Grace of Crows” is about how an anxiety-ridden woman finds happiness through the most unexpected of ways—and characters. Dubbed a “stunning debut novel” by top 50 Hall of Fame reviewer, Grady Harp, The Grace of Crows has won the Jack Eadon Award for the Best Book in Contemporary Drama, Second Place for General Fiction for the Readers Choice Awards, and Runner-Up for 2014 General Fiction with the Great Northwest Book Festival.
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