Published in the Woonsocket Callon December 23, 2018
The holiday season can be a double-edge sword. For some, it brings feelings of warmth and joy, even closeness and belonging to family and friends, but for others it produces, extra stress and anxiety and feelings of isolation and depression. Increased demands and family obligations during Christmas through New Year’s Eve, from last minute shopping for gifts, baking and cooking, cleaning and hosting parties, getting the Christmas cards mailed, and even having unrealistic expectations can bring about the holiday blues. Although holiday stress triggers depression, it can also bring about headaches, excessive drinking and overeating and even difficulty in sleeping.
During her 24-year career as a licensed behavioral health therapist, Holly Fitting, LMHC, LCDP, Vice President of Addiction and Residential Services at the Providence-based The Providence Center (TPC), has assisted many of her clients develop strategies to cope with the holiday blues. “It’s quite common,” says Fitting, who oversees over 20 programs at TPC.
Traveling to visit families, flight delays, long lines to check in, bad weather can add to your stress, too, says Fitting, even anticipating topics conversations that may lead to arguments and events that may not even happen.
Pre-planning Potential Family Conflict
Fitting says that preplanning potential issues that you might encounter at a family gathering can helpful up to a point if you just don’t over plan. “If you try to figure out every possible scenario that might occur, this may only heighten your anxiety,” she adds. So, if you think your sibling will bring up political topics you may not want to discuss, you can plan to say, “Let’s talk about this topic after the holidays,” suggest Fitting. Or just don’t sit near them at the dinner table to avoid the conversation, she adds.
It’s okay to say “no” if you choose not to attend holiday parties or family gatherings, says Fitting, especially if you feel stressed out going. To keep feelings from being hurt and reducing potential problems it might be better to go but limit the time there, she says.
Also, you can choose not to take on the responsibilities and commitments to bring trays of treats, says Fitting. But if you choose to bring dessert, take the easy road. Instead of baking everything from scratch, buy a platter of cookies or a store-bought cake to lighten your load.
Combating the Holiday Blues
Maintaining healthy habits can also help you beat the holiday blues. “Try to eat healthy meals before holiday gatherings and minimize sugary desserts and alcohol consumed at the celebrations,” states Fitting. During the holidays, “continue your exercise routine, even if it is a scaled down version and get plenty of sleep,” she suggests, noting that this will help to reduce anxiety and depression, sleep better and keep the weight off.
Out of control holiday spending and last-minute shopping can increase holiday stress, too, says Fitting who suggests these tips to reduce gift costs: “Stick to your set budget to avoid guilt about buying gifts you cannot afford. Use coupons and sales to decrease spending costs. Agree to set the spending limits to no more than $ 20. Rather than buying presents for ten different people, play Secret Santa and each family member just buys one gift. Set the price and rules ahead of time and make sure everyone understands them. Or rather than buying presents collect cash to make a donation to an agreed upon charity,” she recommends.
Standing in long lines in the shopping mall can quickly become a source of stress, says Fitting. “One good solution is to double up and invite a family member or friend to shop. Waiting in a long line alone always feels like it takes twice as long as when you have someone to talk to.
You can get into the holiday spirit by starting a new tradition for yourself and family that you will enjoy, suggests Fitting. “Volunteering to help out with a Toys for Tots Drive, or at a soup kitchen. Giving back by volunteering can really help to boost your spirits,” she says.
Finally, Fitting says, “accept the fact that there will be mishaps along the way during the holidays. Try laughing at the unanticipated events and this certainly will help to reduce the undue stress experienced.”
Getting Professional Help When Needed
As Christmas and New Year’s approach, and you cannot shake the holiday blues, “it is important to be honest with yourself and your feelings. But, if the feelings of sadness still persist then you should go speak to a professional. Sometimes going for therapy to talk through your feelings will help to alleviate depression and anxiety. Sometimes prescribed medication along with therapy is necessary to help reduce symptoms.”
For those suffering the holiday blues, call The Providence Center at (401) 276 4020 or go to http://www.providence center.org.