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How to Cope with Holiday Anxiety and Depression


By Phoebe Long, PhD

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or it should be, anyway, according to the media, Instagram, retail stores, and seemingly everyone else. For many of us, however, that merriment feels out of reach. The holiday season is often touted as a time of joy, festivities, and togetherness. The reality is that the holidays can often be bittersweet. While you may want to be present and excited about the season, you may instead find yourself feeling stressed and anxious.

The pressures of spending time with family, buying gifts, and attending celebrations can translate into increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. You might also be comparing yourself to others who seem to be having a far more festive holiday season, and those who don’t celebrate Christmas may feel more isolated at this all-consuming time of year. These conflicting feelings and stresses are known as “holiday anxiety.”

High Stress Situations Can Lead to Holiday Anxiety and Depression

If you notice your anxieties rising during the holiday season, you are not alone.  A poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) shows that roughly one third of people experience higher levels of stress around the holidays. Among those with existing mental health conditions, this number is even higher: a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) shows 64% of people with mental illness state that the holidays can exacerbate their symptoms. A few factors drive these increases in anxiety and depression.

Holidays can be a source of disappointment. When you watch a holiday movie or look at social media, you might see picture perfect, lavish celebrations. When you look at your own holidays, you may notice dissonance from this ideal, and feel disappointment when your reality does not match this portrayal. Moreover, family gatherings can be a source of joy and stress. Conflicts, old resentments, and differing political opinions can surface during these gatherings, leading to uncomfortable and stressful situations.

For some, the holidays may also serve as a reminder of loneliness and grief. For those who have lost a loved one, had a relationship end, or don’t have a large circle of family or friends, the absence of loved ones can cast a shadow over the festivities and lead to feelings of sadness and loneliness.

For many, the holidays are a packed season, full of events which come with heightened responsibilities and obligations. To-do lists get longer: you may find yourself hosting family gatherings, planning meals, shopping for gifts, buying plane tickets, decorating the house, and attending numerous social events. The constant hustle and bustle can leave you feeling drained. To add to this, financial pressures attached to these events may exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression, making it harder to enjoy the holiday season.

Engaging in more activities and responsibilities during the holiday season can lead to both physical and mental fatigue. This is often exacerbated by lack of sleep, overeating, or indulging in alcoholic beverages. Fatigue and physical discomfort can make handling stress effectively and enjoying the holiday festivities more challenging.

Ten Effective Ways to Combat Holiday Anxiety

So, how can you keep your spirits merry and manage stress levels during this busy season? Here are ten tips to help you cope with holiday anxiety and depression:

  1. Set Realistic Expectations: It is okay that holidays are imperfect. Make room for what works for you, which may mean more simple celebrations. Work on building acceptance that things often may not happen as you expect them to.
  2. Plan Ahead: Avoid last-minute acute stress by planning your activities, shopping, and meals ahead of time. If calendar and recipe planning is helpful for you, create a calendar to visualize what you have planned.
  3. Cope Ahead: As this post lays out, stress is a given during the holidays. Work on understanding what contexts you feel anxious within and identify coping strategies ahead of time.
  4. Stay on Budget: Financial stress is a major contributor to holiday anxiety. Work on budgeting for food, gifts, and travel expenses, and try to stick to this.
  5. Maintain Healthy Habits: Ensure you get plenty of sleep, eat nourishing foods, and incorporate regular exercise into your routine.
  6. Take Time for Yourself: The holidays are a time to celebrate you, and it is important to do things you enjoy, whether it be reading a book, listening to soothing music, or taking a walk.
  7. Ask for Support: Talk to others about how you are feeling by reaching out to loved ones or support networks if you’re feeling lonely or isolated.
  8. Say No: It’s okay to say no when you’re feeling overwhelmed or fatigued. Engage with what you want to do, and work on setting boundaries that work for you.
  9. Limit Alcohol: While the holidays may provide more moments to drink alcohol, increased consumption can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression. Be mindful of how much you are drinking and limit where possible.
  10. Practice Mindfulness: Work on staying present and noticing and enjoying the moment.
  11. Seek Professional Help If Needed: If feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression persist, consider seeking professional help.

Finding Peace this Holiday Season

It is normal to experience some level of stress and anxiety during the holidays. However, when these feelings start to interfere with your ability to enjoy the season, it’s important to seek help. Counseling and cognitive-behavioral therapy can be effective ways to manage holiday anxiety and depression. Mental health professionals can provide tools and strategies to cope with these feelings effectively and help you enjoy the holiday season to its fullest.

If you’re struggling with holiday anxiety or depression, please remember you’re not alone. The Ross Center is here to provide support and help. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for assistance. We wish you a peaceful, joyous, and festive holiday season.







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