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5 Tips for Dealing with Stress and Depression During the Holidays

The holiday season can be a magical time of the year. Festive lights and decorations brighten neighborhoods, special and delicious treats tempt our pallets, and the contagious excitement of children can fill us with a celebratory spirit. But for some people, it may not always be the most wonderful time of the year. It can be a significant source of stress and be a trigger for those who suffer from depression.

The so-called “Holiday Blues” are real. A 2014 survey conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that the holidays contributed to feeling sad or dissatisfied.  Of those surveyed, 68 percent reported feeling financially strained, 63 percent said there was too much pressure, and 57 percent said they had unrealistic expectations. Approximately 24 percent of people with a diagnosed mental illness find that the holidays make their condition “a lot” worse and 40 percent “somewhat” worse.

The 2020 Holiday Season

The 2020 holiday season adds a layer of reasons many people aren’t feeling jolly. The pandemic, already responsible for disrupting many facets of life, can exacerbate the challenges of the holidays. People who enjoyed past holidays may now anticipate them with trepidation. And people who already struggled with stress and depression may face an even tougher battle.

Safety precautions prevent people from joining large, in-person gatherings with friends and family—whether due to travel restrictions, social distancing (formal guidance from health authorities is available), or the death of a loved one. Some will hesitate to get together with anyone outside their immediate household, wondering if it’s safe or worth the risk. 

The shattered economy may also create anxiety for many people who have lost their jobs or taken pay cuts due to the pandemic. The prospect of not creating a wonderful holiday full of gifts and decorations can make it much more challenging to get in the spirit.

If you’re struggling with stress or depression, or you just feel like a broken gingerbread cookie this holiday season, here are a few tips to help you navigate this unusual holiday season:

1. Acknowledge and Accept

Understandably, the holiday season may be stressful and may intensify your depression. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season. Don’t punish yourself for not feeling celebratory.

2. Make a Budget

Financial strain is one of the leading causes of stress. Making a budget at the start of the season for holiday shopping and expenses is one of the most effective ways to mitigate this stress. It helps prevent accidental overspending and ensures reasonable expectations. Try to remember that quality time and happy memories are generally worth more than expensive gifts or parties, and focus on those things instead of merely spending money.

3. Manage Your Expectations

Try to set realistic goals and keep expectations for the holiday season manageable by not trying to make the holiday “the best.” Pace yourself. Organize your time, make a list, and prioritize what’s most important to you. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. 

Let go of the past and look toward the future! Don’t be disappointed if your holidays are not like they used to be. Changes are part of life. You can cherish fond holiday memories from the past, but you will only set yourself up for sadness if everything has to be just like the “good old days” for you to enjoy the season.

4. Volunteer

The holidays are usually a busy time, and it may sound cliche, but taking the time to do something for someone else can give you a new perspective. It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment. Just volunteering to wrap presents for a charity fundraiser or serving a meal at a community center will help you and those you’re helping.

Get involved with Eagle Valley Behavioral Health or Vail Health.  

5. Seek Support

Lighten the load with a strong support system. Support can come from a lot of places. Many people turn to their friends and families, while others find it in a community or religious organizations. 

Professional help can also be useful, especially when the stress begins to turn into a serious mental health issue. You can find a local therapist through Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, who will help you through any behavioral health challenges you may be facing. Financial assistance resources like Olivia’s Fund are also available to those who live or work in Eagle County and cannot afford treatment themselves.

Embrace the many positive aspects of the season and remember that the simple act of brightening someone else’s day with a thoughtful gift, card, or other expressions of love is the best way to make yourself feel better, too. Try holding the door or saying ‘hello’ to the next stranger you come across and see for yourself. 

Have a wonderful holiday season!

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