When it just doesn’t feel like the most wonderful time of the year
We’re in the throes of the holiday season and all that it brings, for better or worse. Celebrations, family time, crowds, shrinking bank accounts and shorter days can make what is supposed to be a joyous time of year, feel stressful and filled with anxiety and isolation.
According to a 2015 study from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64 percent of people say they are affected by the holiday blues, while 24 percent of them say they are affected a lot.
By understanding the things that lead to seasonal sadness, you can take the steps to address them before they hijack the holidays. Regardless of religious beliefs and traditions, we hold this time of year, there are several reasons that cause us to feel less than merry around the holidays.
It could be a sense of pressure to get into the spirit of the season when all around us is music, festivities, and decorations that seem to come with a degree of expectation that we should be happy and celebratory. Know that it is perfectly ok to feel the way you do. Set realistic expectations and leave enough time for yourself to relax and enjoy the season.
Finances, or a lack of, can bring feelings of inadequacy and isolation when we aren’t able to be generous or take part in gift exchanges. You’ve heard it said many times, it’s better to give than to receive and the research proves it is true. That doesn’t have to mean monetary things; giving your time and resources to others stimulates the reward system in the brain in both the giver and the receiver. It’s a bit counterintuitive to consider giving to others to better your own state of mind, but the end result is truly a win-win. The simple act of volunteering, for instance, helps to shift the focus off yourself and your own issues and allows you to put that energy into making a difference in someone else’s life.
Feelings of loss is another factor to holiday blues, whether you’re mourning the loss of a loved one which feels amplified this time of year or maybe it’s a stark difference this year in comparison to grand holiday celebrations from the past. Take the opportunity to create new memories and traditions. There are no rules to the holidays, make the season meaningful to you in ways that bring you joy.
The holidays can be especially difficult for persons in addiction recovery and dealing with mental illness conditions. If you or someone you know is in recovery, ask friends and family to respect and support your sobriety. Limit exposure to places and people who may trigger addiction urges and stick to your recovery program. And now is not the time to stop any substance or mental health medications. Social isolation is heightened this time of year. If you’re feeling lonely, reach out to someone you trust and talk about it. Find ways to be social that make you feel comfortable and not forced.
Know that there’s a difference between the holiday blues, which typically go away when the holiday season ends, and more severe depression, which interferes with activities of daily living and lasts more than a few weeks. If the holiday season passes and you’re still feeling depressed or anxious, it’s best to consult with a medical professional.
Finally, focus on the good. Think about the things that are right in your life – large or small – and take stock of the positives. That should be a holiday tradition we all keep.
I wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season and let’s all remember those who need a little more support this time of year and strive to be kinder and more compassionate in the coming new year.
Susan Kozak has been a licensed social worker for the past 35 years and currently serves as the executive director of Community Care Services, a position she has held since 2011.