While we all hope for smooth sailing during the holidays, learning tips for managing holiday stress is a must for many people, especially those with an existing mood disorder.
In 2014, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that 64% of people with a mental illness think the holidays make their condition worse. In 2021, an additional NAMI survey showed that three in five Americans find the holidays have a negative impact on their overall mental health.
If you’re struggling with stress or depression during the holidays, you’re not alone. Here are four tips to help you deal with holiday stress and set some all-important personal boundaries during the season.
1. Set Realistic Expectations as Part of Holiday Self-Care
The holidays are a time for giving, but that doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice your own needs. To avoid burnout, set aside some time to care for yourself throughout the holiday season and set realistic expectations for holiday events to prioritize your mental health and navigate potentially tricky situations.
- Prepare ahead of time. Anticipate and accept how things are today rather than how you wish they’d be. High hopes of changed times may only set you up for disappointment.
- Be honest with yourself about what you can realistically handle. With limited December weekends, don’t allow guilt to compel you to do more than you can handle. Realize that you are entitled to make your own decisions about how much time and effort you want to spend on others during the holidays, and don’t feel guilty for choosing a reasonable amount.
- Pick and choose your conversations. Plan some talking points ahead of time if you’re worried about a potential conflict. If you’re unable to contribute to a particular conversation, ask questions and use active listening to engage.
- Spend some time by yourself. Are you someone who needs to recharge your energy after social situations? Schedule in alone time so you can make sure it actually happens.
Holidays or not, things rarely go exactly to plan. Setting clear and realistic expectations in advance helps you protect your mental health and become more comfortable with holiday imperfections. It’s also a great way to mitigate holiday stress and focus on what matters most to you.
2. Limit Time Around Those Who Cause You Stress
Wondering how to deal with difficult family members? You’ll be glad to know that you aren’t obligated to spend time with people who take a toll on your mental health. If you need to skip certain holiday events, that’s okay. Don’t feel like you have to say “yes” to every invitation that comes your way. Otherwise, you can also cut back on travel or limit your time at parties and other festive functions.
For example, your parents may want you to visit for a full week over the holidays. To you, however, the idea sounds exhausting and stressful. There are a few ways you can handle this request to prioritize your mental health, including:
- Shorten the length of your trip to a few days.
- Visit for a week, but stay in a hotel to have your own space.
- Offer to visit at another time of the year instead to avoid the high expectations of a holiday get-together.
Remember that holiday events don’t have to be organized solely on your family’s terms. You can still foster your relationships while putting up healthy boundaries.
3. Be Aware of Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms
There’s a chance that your difficult experience around the holidays could be due to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). For those who struggle with depression, seasonal changes, emotional family reunions, and obligations of the holiday season can worsen their depression, making it important to recognize when SAD may be at play.
The most common symptoms of SAD are sleeping too much and overeating. Other symptoms include the following:
- Feeling depressed nearly every day
- Withdrawal from activities you typically enjoy
- Social isolation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Constant low energy level
- Feeling hopeless about the future
- Having suicidal thoughts
There are both indoor and outdoor activities you can do during the winter to help cope with depressive symptoms. This includes walks and other outdoor activities to get in some fresh air and boost your mood, as well as engaging with indoor holiday activities that bring you joy, such as baking, decorating, or watching cozy movies.
However, if you think you’re experiencing serious depression rather than just the general winter blues, seek treatment.
4. Reach Out
Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need some support getting through this season. Here are a few options to consider:
- See a therapist. Talking about stress with a professional before, during, and/or after the holidays can help you process your feelings and develop strategies for handling different scenarios.
- Try a new treatment. Ketamine Infusion Therapy is one of the leading alternative treatments for depression and anxiety. It also offers faster relief than many other treatment options, which can help as you cope with holiday obligations.
- Don’t isolate yourself. Avoid the temptation to withdraw from others during the holiday season. When you’re feeling stressed, it’s important to reach out to friends or family members for support, especially those you know you can count on for unconditional love.
The holidays can be a stressful time. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of depression related to holiday stress, treatment is available. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible and contact our patient care team.