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For many, the holidays are a magical time to celebrate with loved ones, eat delicious food, listen to Christmas songs, and partake in crafts with our children. Unfortunately, others don’t look forward to the holiday season with the same type of enthusiasm. The holidays are often an unfortunate reminder of loss and heartache – the death of a loved one, a pending divorce, being a newly single mom, or a job loss due to COVID-19.
Others develop anxiety and depression during the holiday season due to the self-induced stress – trying to find the “perfect” gifts, worrying about money, or attempting to micromanage activities and dinners. Whatever the circumstance, holiday-related anxiety, and depression can dampen the time of year that is supposed to bring the most joy. So how do we survive the season without letting our emotions and memories get the best of us? Here is what the experts say-
1. Focus on the Good
It can be difficult to focus on the good when it seems like everything is going wrong all at once. However, recognizing all of the wonderful things we do have can help to mitigate many of the depressive symptoms that correlate to the holidays.
For example, if you are a newly divorced father feeling upset about spending Christmas day without the kids, try to make Christmas eve especially memorable. Do a craft, go sledding, make gingerbread houses, watch a great family movie. When that dreaded Christmas day comes, keep busy and remember how wonderful it was to spend a great evening with the kids when you could.
2. Eliminate Perfectionism
Much of the holiday-related stress is a result of an overly perfectionistic attitude. We worry about things that don’t matter-finding the perfect tree, buying the perfect presents, cooking the perfect dinner. We spend so much time obsessing about doing everything perfectly that we don’t have time to enjoy it. Truthfully, most family and friends care much more about spending quality time together having fun than ensuring everything is perfect.
Instead of going to several different stores trying to buy the right present for each person, go on Amazon to finish shopping all at once. If you aren’t sure what to get someone, a gift certificate is always a safe and reliable option. Cut back on holiday-related activities if they are causing unnecessary stress. Ask yourself if you and your family really enjoy these events or if you simply feel obligated to do them out of misplaced guilt.
3. Learn How to Grieve
If you are experiencing the first holiday without a loved one, don’t try to mask your emotions. It’s entirely normal and acceptable to reach out to people you trust and rely on for support. Find a support group, call a friend, distract yourself with a calming movie. You may feel a mix of emotions that change from day to day, which is completely acceptable too. There is no right or wrong way to process grief during the holiday season. As hospice manager Deborah Johnson says, “All feelings are a sign that you’re human and reflect where you are in your healing process.”
4. Lower Your Expectations
Much of our anxiety and depression comes from having overly high expectations of others, the holidays, and the world around us. If we fantasize and romanticize the holidays months in advance, the actual Christmas season is bound to disappoint us. Nothing ever goes perfectly-and this year has taught us that more than others.
Instead of fantasizing about how things should be, start living day to day in reality and how things are. Start laughing more and stop taking yourself so seriously. The tree might fall over, the ornaments may break, a child will probably throw a tantrum at some point, and it may rain on Christmas. Regardless, you can choose to make the best out of a situation and laugh about it rather than feel let down by events outside of your control.
Do you struggle with holiday-induced anxiety and depression? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors will be happy to speak with you.