Five Ways to Manage Holiday Stress

There’s a lot to love about the brightness and celebration of the holiday season. But many of us struggle to feel connected and present, especially when everyone us around seems to be so happy and full of cheer. When you’re struggling with depression, it can be a struggle to get through the holidays without feeling isolated or lonely, even (or especially) when surrounded by so much conspicuous joy. Dr. Kimberly Cress, Regional Medical Director of Houston Greenbrook TMS NeuroHealth Centers, says that although “The holiday season can come with great joy with the opportunity to spend time with family and friends, great stress can also come with the demands of trying to create the perfect “Martha Stewart” home. Focusing on the true meaning of the holidays is important to keeping our lives centered.” The tips below can help with keeping our priorities and minimizing our stress.

In the six weeks between late November and early January, you might find yourself attending half a dozen holiday celebrations with your friends, family, and coworkers. That’s half a dozen occasions where you’ll be expected to be dress up, whip up impressive food, and spend money for gifts all while feeling “the holiday spirit.” If you’re feeling pressured, take time to decide what’s most important for you and what you can do/attend without getting burnt out. Maybe you can skip Friendsgiving but see your closest friends for brunch, or decide to attend the office holiday party but stay for only an hour.

We know that what we see on social media isn’t “real.” But it’s easy to feel like you’re not measuring up, especially when you’re being bombarded with posts full of expensive presents, beautiful decorations, and picture-perfect families. If you find yourself feeling inadequate as you scroll through your feed, try to put your phone down and remember to take what you’re seeing with a grain of salt-- it isn’t necessarily the whole picture of someone’s life.

Shopping, planning, decorating—when you’re busy, it’s easier to justify slacking on your healthy habits in order to get everything done. But making the time to take care of yourself will help keep you balanced, whether it’s a good sleeping schedule, writing in your journal, or exercising. It might seem a little selfish, especially when you have kids that you want to make the holidays special for. But taking care of yourself will help keep you from feeling too burnt out to enjoy the things that really matter this time of year.

Between the sugar cookies and the eggnog, many of us spend the holiday season feeling more full than we’d like. And unfortunately, the foods we tend to overindulge in during the holidays are processed and high in sodium or sugar. Some studies have suggested that diets rich in healthy, whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, and fish are correlated with a decreased risk of depression. Plan for success by having healthy greens and water before attending celebrations so that you’ll have less room for sweets, and keep in mind that alcohol is a depressant which can exacerbate any underlying mood conditions.

If you’re feeling drained by the thought of attending yet another holiday party, know that it’s okay to bow out and get a chance to recharge your emotional and mental batteries. If you have plans to see family members you know will be too difficult to be around for a long time, it’s okay to only stay for an hour or two before leaving (or skip the event altogether). Sometimes the disagreements or bad feelings we have during the holidays turn into resentment that lingers well into the next year, so give yourself permission to pick and choose your battles.

It’s important to check in with yourself often to make sure you’re staying on top of your mental health. Dr. Kimberly Cress advises that “if you are feeling so overwhelmed that you find yourself shutting down, this is the time to seek help from a clinician.” As you do your best to get through the next few months, stay on the lookout for depression symptoms. These include:

  • Fatigue or decreased energy
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Changes in weight from decreased or increased appetite
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

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