Tips to Manage Seasonal Stress

The holidays can be stressful. Shopping, social events, debt and other pressures can lead to anxiety. Missing loved ones and stewing about past events can also contribute to feelings of distress. This change from your everyday routine can cause you to neglect your diet and skip exercise. You may find yourself feeling the holiday blues.

What Are the Holiday Blues?

During the holidays, you may feel lonely, sad or angry, and you may be sleeping poorly. Even if you’re not prone to depression, you may have other symptoms, such as headaches, tension and fatigue. It’s also easy to eat and drink too much.

It’s common to feel a letdown after the holidays are over. Hectic holidays can leave you feeling physically and emotionally drained. You may feel a sense of loss or frustration, which can turn into the blues.

Clinical Depression vs. Holiday Blues

Don’t confuse holiday blues with clinical depression. Clinical depression is a disorder that may need to be relieved with prescribed medication or other forms of therapy. The holiday blues could require something as simple as a good listener. Clinical depression, however, can be triggered in a number of ways during or just after the holidays.

The holiday blues are common, but if you are feeling especially down — for example, your sleep or your appetite is affected — contact your health care provider or visit Mental Health America for help and guidance. If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Lifeline at 9-8-8 for immediate help.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

There is also a tendency to link the holiday blues with seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, also called depression with seasonal pattern. SAD, however, is a diagnosable condition linked to fewer hours of sunlight during the winter.

People with the holiday blues also can also have SAD, but the two are not directly related. People with SAD have symptoms of major depression throughout the fall and winter.

How to Manage the Holiday Blues

You might ease your holiday blues with something as simple as getting enough rest. People tend to lose sleep during the holidays and end up shortchanging themselves. Lack of sleep can cause cloudy thinking and irritability. It can also hamper your ability to deal with everyday stress.

  • Have a heart-to-heart. Find someone you can talk to.
  • Limit alcohol intake. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends no more than 1-2 alcoholic drinks a day.
  • Stick within your normal routine as much as you can. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with all of the additional holiday activities.
  • Set a realistic budget and then stick to it. There are many different resources that can help you plan your spending.
  • Don't label the season as a time to cure past problems. Try to enjoy the present moment and your loved ones around you.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no. That means don’t go to parties when you don’t really have time. Don’t take on events that will crowd your time. Don’t overextend yourself.
  • Find time for yourself. Go for a walk, read a book, or find some way to center yourself.
  • Enjoy free holiday activities. Take money out of the equation by finding free or low-cost activities around town.
  • Eat more veggies and fruits. A well-balanced diet will fend off potential disease and illnesses.

Give Yourself a Break

Dr. Sally Taylor, senior vice president and chief of behavioral medicine at University Health, offers two pieces of holiday advice: “Give yourself a break and keep it simple.”

Your holiday to-do list might seem endless. Give yourself regular “self-care” breaks to disconnect from that activity, even for just a few minutes. Take a walk, listen to some music or find a quiet spot to catch a second wind.

“Many people expect that ongoing or chronic family conflicts will magically resolve on a holiday, only to feel devastated when it’s business-as-usual, or those conflicts are exaggerated because of all the other stressors of the holidays,” Taylor said. “Try not to make the holiday the time to work all these out. Keep it simple, limit the time with those who create the most challenges, or make a decision to spend holidays in another way.”

How to Reduce Your Kids' Stress

Here are some ways to make the holidays special for your children:

  • Spend more time with your kids. Entertain less and go to fewer parties that exclude children.
  • Watch less TV and do more things as a family. Find a healthy outdoor activity to participate in.
  • Include your kids in all preparations. Let your children help you decorate and bake, even if it means your creations aren’t perfect.
  • Teach children the meaning of giving. Adopt a needy family and have your kids help. Suggest that your children use their own money to buy a gift for an underprivileged child. Ask them to donate one of their own gifts to a less fortunate child.
  • Teach your children that gifts don’t have to be tangible. Trade intangible gifts with each other, such as helping with homework, washing the dishes and mowing the lawn. Let your children come up with their own ideas of what they can offer.

Behavioral Health Care at University Health

If you are interested in seeking professional help to manage stress, please contact your primary care provider or visit our website for community resources.

University Health’s behavioral health services offers expert, compassionate care for mental and behavioral health issues in adolescents and adults. For more information, contact us at 210-358-3108. 

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