This article was contributed by the San Benito County Behavioral Health Department.
The holidays are a time to be merry and joyous, spending time with loved ones and making great memories. At least this is what people are raised to believe.
The reality is that often times, the holidays come with an increase in stress and depression for many people. Whether people have an existing mental health condition or have no history at all, stress and depression can affect anyone. Coordinating schedules between holiday parties, family events, shopping, entertaining, cleaning and baking on top of all the everyday life routines can be exhausting and stressful. For those with a loss of a loved one, with little or no social support who may be isolated, the holidays can cause depression knowing that they will be unable to spend the holiday with their loved ones.
If you or someone you know is experiencing increased stress or depression during the holidays, here are a few tips that may help out. Keep in mind that these tips are not meant to replace the guidance of a mental health professional.
Budgeting: Much of the stress and depression is caused by the pressure to find the perfect gift for everyone in your life. It is helpful to set a realistic budget for gifts before you go out shopping. You can also consider gifts that are not very costly by giving homemade gifts, or starting a gift exchange where you only buy one gift instead of buying for the entire group.
Drugs and Alcohol: Although the temptation to escape the stress through drugs and alcohol can be strong, it is important to realize that it is not going to help. Substance use can ultimately make your issues worse as these can exacerbate your symptoms. If you need an escape, perhaps practice meditation to clear your mind, do some exercise, go out for walks in the sun, or search for another coping practice that suits your lifestyle.
Family: Sometimes family is the cause of the added stress or anxiety during the holiday season. Not everyone has a family where they all get along. Some family members may try to guilt you into doing things you are not comfortable with, and they may make comments about your life that can be hurtful or upsetting. A good practice to help with family-related stress is setting boundaries. Let your family know what your boundaries are and remind them when they try to push them. If you visit your family for the holidays, perhaps reducing the amount of time you visit would be good. Instead of visiting for a whole weekend, maybe just visit for the day.
Prioritize: It is easy to over-commit and try to do everything yourself during the holiday season. Realize that you are one person and should not feel pressured to take on more responsibilities than you can handle. This means being aware of your stress level, or knowing how much commitment will cause extra stress. You can cut out the things that are not that important, or ask someone else to help you with some of the tasks. It can be helpful to make a list of all the tasks you are expected to complete and place them in order by importance or urgency and work from there. You can also say “No” to requests for help if you feel that it can add stress to your life.
Loneliness: Sometimes the depression or stress can come from the feeling that you are alone. This feeling can come from a lack of social support, having family and friends far away from where you live, or being unable to spend time with others. If you feel you are isolated or lonely, you can look for free community events where you can socialize with other people. Volunteering at a local nonprofit can also help by allowing you to spend time with others while doing something good for people in need. If you know that the holidays cause you to feel lonely and depressed, reach out to someone and have them check in on you periodically so you can feel supported.
If your loved one is struggling with stress or depression during the holidays, you can be a support to them. You can ask them if there is anything you can do to help. Remember to be patient, as sometimes people are learning how to cope as they go. Avoid giving unwanted advice, rather just listen and offer support. And most importantly, be mindful of your mental health and seek support for yourself if needed.
Caring for your mental health is always important, especially during the holiday season. Recognizing these symptoms in yourself is essential and taking steps to prevent or help these symptoms can make a world of difference.
For more information on mental health, or if you need mental health assistance, contact San Benito County Behavioral Health by calling (831) 636-4020 or go to their website.