Coping With Stress, Depression, And The Holidays

By: Lisa Philippart

You can’t put your finger on it. You feel lackluster and sad, sluggish, and overwhelmed, even though it is the festive holiday season. What gives? Where is that holiday merriment you envisioned when entering this joyful time of year? The holiday blues are not an uncommon phenomenon. Perhaps feelings of nostalgia for the holidays from an earlier chapter of life create a sense of sadness. Maybe there was a recent loss of a loved one. The holidays seem to bring our emotions up to the surface. The music, Christmas movies, the decorations we put out each year…all these things may lead to a wistful longing for something that seems unattainable. Financial concerns can also factor into feelings of not measuring up to expectations when it comes to gift-giving. So, it isn’t surprising that many people struggle with depression during this season. With all the demands over the next month, it can be simply overwhelming. Let’s look at some ways to better manage your emotions for the rest of the year.

During the holiday season, we are wired to give — give to others, do for others, and be there for others. And while this is praise-worthy, sometimes being swept up in the giving can cause us to lose track of our own personal needs. To help find a healthy balance, don’t forget to practice self-care. This means listening to your body and knowing when you might benefit from some quiet time to relax. Tending to your own wellness during the busy holidays can help regulate mood. Back to the idea of giving…giving oneself in a selfless manner is a positive mood booster. Helping someone less fortunate can provide a sense of purpose. Find an organization that you can get behind and offer your time. It’s a win-win!

If you struggle to find a balance, don’t hesitate to reach out for support. Know your limits. Be aware when you are sinking into the pit of depression and contact your support network. This can be a close friend, a family member, or a support group. Please do not ignore the signs that you are in a dark place. Ask those who care about you to sit and talk with you, take a walk together, or go grab lunch so you can share your feelings with them. Even during this cooler time of year, fresh air and sunshine have remarkable restorative properties. Physical activity is one of the best things we can do for depression, as it is a natural resource for improving our state of mind.

When grief and loss are at the root of holiday depression, it can be painful to face the seasonal traditions in the absence of a loved one. As difficult as it is to change it up, try doing something different at least for the first Christmas without that person. Instead of the traditional family holiday dinner, suggest a different location like someone else’s home, a restaurant, or a weekend at an Airbnb cabin at the lake. Your family will understand, so don’t be shy about throwing out some suggestions.

Sometimes all the commotion surrounding the holidays can blot out our ability to remain in the present. Our attention is pulled in all different directions and worries about the past and future can cause us to lose sight of today. By focusing on the here and now, you can refocus attention on enjoying the present moment. By reining in thought distractions, you can pause and check in with yourself. Are you okay? And finally, believe it or not, how much sleep we get on a regular basis is really important to our state of mind. Lack of restorative sleep disrupts our circadian cycle, which can cause us to go through our days feeling tired, moody, and unproductive. For better quality sleep, stick to a regular daily sleep schedule, limit caffeine intake, avoid heavy meals after 7 p.m., and turn off the electronic devices.

Let’s get started on a healthy and joyful Christmas season!

By: Lisa Philippart

Licensed Professional Counselor