Everyone’s smiling, music is playing, lights are strung up on the Christmas tree… it’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?
The holidays are a time to celebrate love, family and joy, but for many, the holidays are not a time of serene happiness. They can also be a time of anxiety and stress that can stem from family troubles, financial worries, or a never-ending list of things to accomplish before the end of the year. For others, the holidays can also be a time of loneliness, loss, grief, and depression.
Feeling the need to be consistently happy during the holiday season can make it challenging to acknowledge and accept feelings of stress and sadness. If you feel as if you are struggling this year, keep these things in mind to help you manage your stress or cope with your depression. Both your mental and physical health and well-being will benefit, and you’ll find it easier to bring more joy back into your life this season.
Recognize your emotions, and know that you are not alone.
Stress and sadness are emotions that can feel extremely isolating, and it is easy to feel alone in your experiences. A vital first step toward dealing with stress, sadness, or grief is allowing yourself to own and express your emotions, not to suppress them. Stress, anxiety, sadness, and grief are all human feelings that make up the human experience. Allow yourself to accept that it’s perfectly okay to feel and express these emotions any time of year, even during the holiday season.
Seek support from those you love and trust.
One of the most impactful things you can do to ameliorate stress and depression is to seek support from people that you trust. This support can be found in your family, or in a network of close friends. It’s so important to feel heard and understood, and leaning on those you value reduces loneliness and increases your mental well-being. Don’t be afraid to clearly express how you want to receive support and love. Those who know you are struggling want to be there for you, but they may not know how best to show support. Don’t be afraid to clearly express what type of support you need, whether that is needing a hug, having someone help make you a meal, having someone to listen to you, or just letting someone sit with you.
Don’t forget to breathe.
We know this classic advice sounds trite, but it’s more of an important reminder than you may think. High levels of stress and anxiety can cause you to take more shallow breaths and to even hold your breath. This decreases oxygen in your blood and increases your heart rate, which can exacerbate existing symptoms of stress and anxiety such as lightheadedness, dizziness, and blurred vision. As Dr. Maritza Baez recommends, “When stressed, take 5 slow, deep breaths with your eyes closed, then roll your shoulders forward 5 times, then back 5 times. This will slow your heart rate and release tension in your neck and shoulders.”
Carve out some time to practice self-care.
Taking time to care for yourself and show yourself some love and compassion isn’t selfish, it’s incredibly important for your mental and physical well-being. Self-care also isn’t one size fits all; what you may need to do to feel rejuvenated may be different from someone else, and also may change depending on your emotions any given day. Carve out time to prioritizing doing something that brings YOU peace, and benefits your health and well-being. This could be meditation, going on a walk, practicing yoga, reading a book, cooking a healthy meal for yourself, or going to bed an hour earlier to get more sleep. Whatever you need to do to take care of yourself, prioritize it and put it in your schedule. Most importantly, don’t feel guilty for taking care of yourself both during the holidays and all throughout the year.
Stick to your healthy habits.
Yes the holidays are full of many events and a lot of food, but remembering to make exercise and healthy eating a priority can help you effectively manage your stress and anxiety. Exercising for just 30 minutes is an endorphin boosting, stress busting way to instantly feel happier and more relaxed. At events, feel free to treat yourself, but prioritize eating healthy meals throughout the day and loading up your plate with nutrient dense foods before reaching for the indulgences. Overeating can lead to negative emotions of guilt, and can also leaving you feeling more sluggish and low in energy. Throughout the day, eat a balanced selection of vegetables, fruits, unrefined and energy-sustaining carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Focus on eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help combat depression.
Remember, a mix of positive and negative emotions, even during a very happy time, is completely normal. However, if you feel as if stress and anxiety is taking over how you feel, following these simple tips helps you from dreading or resenting the holiday spirit. If you would like more advice on how to overcome stress and anxiety during the holiday season, read more of what our doctors have to say, or consult with one of our doctors; they’re available online for you anytime, anywhere.
Author: Maggie Harriman