By Bruce Y. Lee
Even though songs such as “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bells” can make the winter holiday season seem like a time for pervasive cheer and mirth, in actuality, holidays can bring stress, depression and anxiety, which in turn can lead to physical problems such as weight gain and Holiday Heart Syndrome. But many people may be suffering in silence. After all, we don’t have songs such as “Rudolph the Depressed Reindeer,” “Santa Claus has Overeaten Again” or “Jingle Bell Stress” to raise awareness. So why may the holidays be stressful to you and what can you do about it?
Here are some common causes of holiday stress:
- “Little Drummer Boy and Girl”: Many people have to work hard with looming year-end deadlines and potentially increased business, especially if sales are tied to the holiday season in any way (such as for retail stores, restaurants, health clinics and candy cane manufacturing). More work can mean less sleep, less exercise and less healthy habits, which can exacerbate stress. Also, gift shopping and holiday planning for friends and co-workers can feel like another job.
- “Sleigh Ride (will be delayed indefinitely due to unforeseen circumstances and we will be charging extra for checking in luggage and wearing pants)”: Holiday travel can be unpleasant with the increasingly crowded conditions and expenses.
- “All I Want for Christmas Is Some Cash”: With all the gift giving, parties and travel, the holidays can really stretch your budget, heightening any financial concerns.
- “Santa Claus is Coming to Town and So Are Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, Your Cousins, Your In-Laws, Your Aunt, Your Uncle, Your Daughter and Her New Boyfriend, and Your Son and Several Strange Friends”: The holidays can bring together people and accompanying drama.
- “Let It Snow! Let It Snow!…Stop Snowing, Already!”:Inclement weather, cold temperatures and less daylight can trigger seasonal affective disorder, depression and road rage (from worse driving conditions), as well as limit activities that would help relieve stress (such as sports and walking outside).
- “Last Christmas”: The holidays can remind you of painful memories such as break-ups, divorces and deaths, especially when you see people experiencing the opposite (for example, seemingly happy couples).
- “Frosting the Snowman”: Food and beverages, including lots of unhealthy ones with lots of fat, salt and sugar, are everywhere, which can lead to overeating, weight gain, heartburn, remorse, regret and then more eating and drinking.
- “I Saw Mommy, Daddy and Everyone Else Kissing Santa Claus”: When people are stressed, lonely, depressed or drunk, they can do unusual and unpredictable things, which in turn can cause more stress (especially if that person is another family member, your significant other, your boss, your employee or you).
- “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…this Holiday Sale That You Can’t Miss and Don’t Forget That Diamonds Show That You Really Care”: The holidays pummel you with advertising convincing you of what don’t have and need to buy.
- “Do You Hear What I Hear?”: During the holidays, many others may seem happy and cheerful, which may make your situation seem less favorable by comparison.
- “Silent Night”: Unfortunately, not everyone has loved ones or a social circle with whom to spend the holidays.
So what can you do to prevent and combat holiday stress?
- “Running Around the Christmas Tree”: Keep a regular exercise routine. Maintain your regular hobbies and regular eating habits…unless they are unhealthy.
- “Chestnuts Roasting in an Open Fire”: Try to eat healthily. Your mood and health are very closely tied to what you ingest.
- “Away in a Manger”: Get enough sleep to re-charge and help handle stress. Also, take time out during the day to take breaks.
- “Blue Christmas”: Don’t be afraid to tell others about how you feel. You may be surprised to find that they are struggling with similar problems and can help provide empathy and social support. If you feel truly overwhelmed or ill, seek professional or medical help.
- “ Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother’s House We Go…but Maybe Try Another Path “: Don’t keep repeating the same mistakes each holiday season. By now, you know what conversations and actions will make you unhappy, anxious, regretful and remorseful (such as going to that same holiday party each year, overeating, overdrinking and ending up with a lampshade on your head) and trigger unresolvable arguments with others, such as family members. Try something new.
- “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)”: Meaningful social connections can help protect you against stress. Avoid people who are not genuinely interested in you. Connect with those who are. Know when to sever relationships that are toxic and harmful. Be willing to let go of grudges for relationships that are worth mending.
- “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”: Stop comparing yourself to others. Embrace your uniqueness. Each of us has a different path in life and faces different challenges and successes. Beneath their superficial appearances, you often don’t know what people are really experiencing. As the Batman has shown us, ostensible success does not mean the person is not struggling and miserable.
- “Feliz Navidad”: Keep in mind that the world is a big place and that you are not necessarily trapped in your current social circle and circumstances.
- “Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Feed the World)”: As Supergirl has shown, helping others can keep you physically active, distract you from your other concerns, be therapeutic, and lead to new friends.
- “Twelve Days of Christmas”: Keep perspective and if the Holidays are tough for you, remember that the Holiday season is temporary and will pass. Try not to take yourself and things too seriously. Just make sure you maintain healthy habits and avoid behaviors that will lead to health problems (such as gaining weight) beyond the holiday season.
- “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”: Even if it doesn’t seem so to you, try to stay optimistic. Research has shown that optimism can have health benefits. Be open to new experiences and possibilities. Sometimes the best things in life are the most unexpected.
And if all of this doesn’t do enough relieve your stress, you can always try singing…
If you would like help with dealing with holiday stress, anxiety, or depression, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.