For some of us, the holidays bring unwelcome guests named Stress and Depression. Holiday stress and blues are common complaints because the season generates fantastic expectations in adults, adolescents, and children. When reality does not measure up to our fantasies, we may become disillusioned, disappointed, and depressed.
When the holidays are over, some of us are left with more than turkey as a leftover. Unresolved feelings and unrealistic expectations can linger. The causes and cures of such seasonal afflictions vary widely depending on individual vulnerabilities.
How to Keep Expectations Reasonable
From the time we are children, we build up expectations about how Christmas should be. Often we enter a new holiday season facing last year's issues, concerns, and expectations. Perfectionism, negative self-talk, loneliness, unenforceable rules, unresolved feelings, disappointments, finances, and fatigue can all lead to stress and depression. We may not be in control of the actions or words of others, but we can certainly control our reactions to them. Here are some tips:
- Don't judge a gift by its price tag. When you give from the heart, the gift is never too small.
- Practice time management skills. Assert yourself by delegating responsibility to children and your spouse so the holidays feel like a family effort.
- Model healthy values by sharing with someone less fortunate. Our children learn more by watching our behaviors and attitudes than by our words.
- Find a creative way to make the holiday special for someone you love but can't be with due to divorce, estrangement, military commitment, or finances. Allow the peaceful feelings of sharing and caring to calm your holiday.
Quick Tips for Stress Reduction
According to the American Institute of Stress, more than 110 million Americans take medication for stress-related reasons each week. Those predisposed to stress may find the holidays causing havoc in their lives. But it's important to realize that stress is part of life, and it can be managed. The following suggestions can help:
- Nutrition plays a big part. Decrease the amount of fat and sugar you eat and avoid caffeinated beverages. When you gather with friends, enjoy the people instead of the food.
- Keep a positive attitude. Shut down negative self-talk.
- Exercise and mediate. Enjoy a class in relaxation and stretching techniques.
- Rest. Try to get eight hours of sleep each day.
- Look at the possibilities around you, not the restrictions.
- Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for several weeks, talking to a mental health professional can help.
Happiness, peace, and love are the prime goals of the holiday season. Allow them to be a part of your life—don't let a white Christmas make you blue!
Peggy Rackley, M. Ed., works as a Licensed Professional Counselor with the Counseling and Consulting Offices of Paul Tobin, Ph.D. and Ann Benjamin, MEd. Contact her at 405-340-4321.