Dr. Berman is a Psychologist in Westport, Connecticut who provides individual psychotherapy. Below is some advice to manage stress this holiday season.
‘TIS THE SEASON: MANAGING STRESS DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON
November has arrived and with it comes the busyness of the holiday season. In a few short weeks, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will be here with Christmas not far behind. This time of year brings joy and warmth, but is also stressful.
What makes this time of year so stressful?
Daylight savings time ended recently and we pushed back the clock. While the extra hour of sleep was welcomed, with it came shorter days and, for some, the winter blues. Daylight savings can affect our mental health in both the short- and long-term. Initially, the hour change impacts our circadian rhythms and our hormones, which can lead to headaches, sleep disruption, fatigue, irritability, and other health issues. In the long term, the end of daylight savings can trigger the start of the winter blues or depression. With shorter days and longer nights, we are exposed to less sunlight. The colder weather and darker evenings can mean we are spending more time indoors, being less active, and getting less fresh air. This combination can lead to longer standing irritability, low energy, and depressed mood.
The holidays bring together families, for better or for worse. Family gatherings during the holidays can be stressful. Families are complicated and there are various factors, personalities, and dynamics interacting, which might lead to tension and conflict. Spending time with family can trigger old wounds or memories leading to depressed mood or anxiety. Relationships may already be strained and the stress of the day can cause further conflict. On the other hand, if you have experienced a loss or you are not spending time with family during this season, the holidays can be isolating and depressing.
Money can be a large source of stress during the holiday. If this is a difficult financial time for you, the holidays will make it worse. There is a demand to purchase gifts for children, family, friends, teachers, your mail person, etc., even though our budgets may not allow for it. Depression and anxiety about money may worsen.
With the holiday season comes many gatherings and parties. While we may enjoy celebrating and socializing, it can be too much. Soon, our downtime is non-existent and we are constantly on the go. Exercise and other stress relief activities go out the window. We do not have time for healthy eating so our nutrition suffers as well. With little attention to our self-care, anxiety increases and depression may set in.
What can you do?
Be sure to make time for you. Identify the things you do that make you feel good and give you stress relief any time of year and prioritize them now. Listen to music. Read. Meditation.
Say “no” if you are spread thin. Some obligations are mandatory so make room somewhere else. Leaving an event a little early to give yourself some downtime can help too.
Plan ahead and get organized. Budget. Knowing what you need to do or buy is half the battle. Avoid last minute trips to the store and minimize stress.
Maintain your healthy habits. Exercise. Keeping your exercise routine is even more important this time of year. A short walk can make a difference. Enjoy special treats and meals but do not overindulge and abandon your healthy eating habits totally. Get plenty of rest. Limit alcohol intake.
Be realistic and flexible with your expectations of yourself and others. Accept that the holidays are not perfect, but make the best of it.
Reach out for support if this is a particularly isolating time. Being with family and friends can give you all that you need to get through the holiday season.
Seek professional help. Sometimes despite the efforts to take care of yourself, feelings of sadness or anxiety remain. If you cannot complete your usual routine, your sleep or appetite is suffering, or you feel hopeless, contact a psychologist for more support during this time.
Dr. Berman is a psychologist in Westport, CT. Contact her today for help managing your stress.