The joy of the holidays can translate to stress, anxiety and even depression for many people. They may feel they are alone, don’t have the means to celebrate as they would like, or for myriad reasons find the days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s difficult to deal with.
Here, two mental health professionals – a psychiatrist and a licensed marriage and family therapist – offer 12 effective strategies to cope with the holiday blues.
- Keep expectations real. Don’t expect to be jolly 24/7 – there’s only one Santa (and you are not him)! Loneliness and sad feelings don’t take a holiday break. Let yourself feel. Share your emotions; call a friend or write them down, and move on.
- Indulge yourself. Put your name at the top of your gift list and splurge. Buy yourself something wonderful that you really want. You are worth it.
- Set realistic goals for yourself. Perfection only happens on the silver screen. The world won’t stop spinning if you don’t send holiday cards or if gifts aren’t wrapped perfectly.
- Be careful about holiday intake and over-consumption. Moderation makes good times better and excess makes bad times worse.
- Learn to say no. Share holiday responsibilities with others – don’t do it all yourself. Delegate. Lose the guilt.
- Rebound when the Scrooges in your life get you down. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. Focus on those you care about and who care about you.
- Prioritize and reconnect. Focus more on your “I want to call list” than on your “I have to call list.”
- Don’t wait for New Year’s Eve to make resolutions. Start making changes in your life and taking care of #1 right now.
- Resist temptation in those tough holiday areas of food, drink and spending. Make common sense decisions in advance, to minimize post-holiday regrets and stress.
- Try fitting a massage into your time and budget. It works wonders for relaxing mind and body. Exercise is a great stress reliever as well.
- Breathe. When you’re most frenzied, take a big belly breath. Release it slowly. Let yourself go into neutral. Slow down. Find your center. Still a bit frenzied? Repeat these instructions. Breathing is a readily available, low-tech and inexpensive self-soothing technique.
- Can’t leave town? Imagine yourself in a favorite vacation spot and go there in your mind. It’s pleasant, relaxing and best accomplished while soaking in a hot bathtub with soft music on and the cell phone off. Lather on some coconut oil for the full effect.
Beth Fraum, M.D. is a psychiatrist who practices in Skokie, IL. Mark Pfeffer, M.S. LMFT is the director of the Panic Anxiety Recovery Center in Chicago.