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Avoiding the Holiday Blues
We can barely escape Halloween before we begin to see the Christmas classics playing on TV, twinkle lights brightening up our favorite department stores, and the constant reminders that the holiday season has arrived. It is supposed to be the happiest season of all, but for many, the holidays are anything but jolly.
Along with snow, the holiday season can also bring on feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress. A number of factors, including unrealistic expectations, financial pressures, and too many commitments can cause stress and anxiety during the holidays.
Here are some great ways to reduce your risk of holiday anxiety:
• Pace yourself. Do not take on more responsibilities than you can handle.
• Make a list and prioritize the important activities. This can help make holiday responsibilities more manageable. Let others help when possible.
• Keep track of your holiday spending. Extra bills can lead to further stress and depression after the holidays are over.
• Limit your consumption of alcohol. Excessive drinking will only increase feelings of depression.
• Surround yourself with supportive and caring people.
• Make time for yourself!
According to MayoClinic.org, seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a subtype of major depression that’s related to changes in seasons, with symptoms that begin in the fall and continue in to the winter. The lack of natural sunlight can lower your energy and leave you feeling increasingly moody.
Symptoms of SAD, or winter depression:
• Tiredness or low energy
• Problems getting along with other people
• Hypersensitivity to rejection
• Changes in appetite
• Weight gain
It’s normal to have some days when you feel blue, but if you feel depressed for two weeks or more you should visit your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you begin to feel hopeless, turn to drugs or alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or think about suicide.
The holiday season can be especially hard for individuals who have lost loved ones. Whether the loss is recent or in the past, the holidays can be a very painful time. Everyone expresses grief in different ways, so try to avoid pressuring yourself or others to continue traditions that may be too painful.
I spoke with Lori Atkinson, Operations Assistant at The Kim Foundation, about how she handled the holidays after losing her husband John in 2009 to lung cancer. She shared with me how she was able to incorporate old traditions while making new ones.
“The first Christmas without John, was truly a difficult one and one that I will not forget. It happened to be the year that Omaha received many inches of snow. With the holiday season already being so different, I didn’t want the snowstorm to keep us from being with family,” she explained.
“Luckily, I had made arrangements with my parents for them to stay with us on Christmas Eve. Having their extra family support was a blessing to the kids and I. It helped with my feelings of loneliness and emptiness while letting my parents enjoy the magic of Christmas morning with their grandchildren,” said Lori. “It has even become a new tradition for my parents to stay at our home and celebrate Christmas morning with us every year.”
While some people decide to create new traditions, others avoid seasonal celebrations all together. Below are some helpful tips on ways to cope with the holidays after a loss:
• Allow yourself to be sad but also experience joy. Do your best to live in the moment and enjoy being surrounded by people who love and support you.
• Create new traditions. If you typically host the holidays, consider taking a vacation or ask a loved one to host.
• Find ways to include the loved ones you have lost. Make their favorite meal, put out a holiday photo of them, or share special memories you have of them. Sometimes even saying their name can be cathartic.
• Minimize or skip gifts. After a death, material things can seem less meaningful and shopping can seem especially stressful. Talk as a family and decide whether you truly want to exchange gifts this year.
• Make time for yourself.
• Ignore people who want to tell you what you “should” do for the holiday. Listen to yourself, trust yourself, communicate with your family, and do what works for you.
If the season begins to become too much for you, simply to take a step back and remember what the holiday season is all about . . .
About Jill Hamilton, The Kim Foundation Project Coordinator
Jill graduated with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Speech Communication from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. Since becoming Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation in April 2014, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, The Omaha Metro Hoarding Taskforce, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, the Metro Area LOSS Team, and is helping lead a community-wide health improvement initiative with the Douglas County Health Department called, “Just Reach Out,” which is focused on improving the people’s view on mental and behavioral health treatment.