With the holiday season in full swing, many Americans are looking forward to the upcoming and ongoing festivities. But for others, this time of year can bring on or serve as a tipping point for stress, anxiety and depression. Holiday depression, stress and anxiety can affect anyone at any age and worsen symptoms for those already coping with a mental illness. According to a survey conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of people say they are affected by the “holiday blues,” or temporary feelings of anxiety and depression during the holidays associated with extra stress, busy schedules and strained family relationships.
As the holiday season continues, Jaime Arlia, LPC, ACS, Associate VP, Children & Family Services, Care Plus NJ, Inc. (“CarePlus”) discusses the factors that can bring on increased anxiety or depression and shares tips on how to manage expectations and cope with stressful situations during the holiday season. Arlia also urges individuals to be aware of the signs and symptoms associated with the holiday blues as well as the importance of seeking professional help if signs and symptoms persist.
“Most people who are affected by the ‘holiday blues’ or ‘winter blues’ report feeling slowed down or excessively tired and lethargic,” explains Arlia. “However, others might also feel irritable and restless, and many folks are less likely to want to socialize, which may be all but impossible given the busy holiday season.”
Some other signs and symptoms of the holiday blues to be on the lookout for in your own behavior or the behavior of a loved one can include: overwhelming fatigue, feelings of loneliness or isolation, sadness or a sense of loss.
There are several factors that can contribute to the holiday blues such as holiday shopping, travel, and a full calendar of holiday events or parties, which can all easily overextend a budget. Setting lofty personal expectations such as striving to find the perfect gift or throw the perfect holiday party can also contribute undue stress to the already increasingly hectic holiday season.
Conversely, while some may be plagued by an overwhelming number of events to attend or relatives to appease, others face challenges such as tense family relationships or being alone for the holidays, which can bring on stress or depression in a different way. For those who have lost a loved one, the holidays can be a common catalyst for symptoms of the holiday blues, as the memories of celebrating or spending quality time with a lost loved one can bring on feelings of emptiness or sadness.
“Losing a loved one can leave people acutely aware of their absence during the holiday season since for many, some of the fondest memories are made this time of year,” said Arlia. “When the whole family gets together, the loss of a loved one can create a noticeable void that can be challenging to cope with.”
Managing the Holiday Blues
“When it comes to managing the anxiety and stress that comes along with the holidays, it’s vital to set realistic expectations for yourself,” explains Arlia. “Spreading yourself too thin by trying to please everyone can really take a toll on your mental health. It’s important to recognize that none of us are superheroes and we need to set limits for ourselves.”
In addition to managing expectations, other tips for coping with the added stress of the holiday blues include:
Sticking to normal routines as much as possible
Increasing your sunlight exposure, which can boost serotonin levels and improve your mood
Taking time for yourself to relax, meditate, listen to music or engage in other calming activities
Getting exercise in—even if it’s only for a short time each day
Setting a budget for holiday activities to avoid overextending yourself financially
Avoiding alcohol if you’re feeling down
While feelings associated with the holiday blues can often be temporary, if signs and symptoms persist for a longer period, it’s important to address the problem before it worsens. If your holiday depression seems severe or begins impacting your job or home life, it’s important to seek professional help.
“It’s highly recommended that folks who experience depression, even if it’s only seasonal, seek counseling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT),” advises Arlia. “Evidence supports that when individuals participate in CBT they can significantly improve their mood by identifying and changing negative thinking patterns and behaviors that contribute to depression.”
Arlia adds, “A mental health professional is equipped to help you manage feelings of depression, stress and anxiety throughout the holidays as well as long-term. Discussing your stressors one-on-one and creating a plan for managing these feelings is important to your overall health and can help you learn to cope with stressful situations.”CarePlus is the largest preeminent provider of integrated primary, mental and behavioral health care services in northern New Jersey. With a total of 24 sites, including four outpatient centers, located in Paramus, Fair Lawn, Hasbrouck Heights and Montclair, ten residential facilities, offices at three hospitals and seven community offices, and school-based programs in over 20 school districts, CarePlus is equipped to address the most immediate health care needs within the communities it serves. For those seeking behavioral or mental health services for managing their anxiety and depression around the holidays, please visit https://www.careplusnj.org/contact-us/ or call (201) 986-5000. If you are experiencing an immediate mental health crisis, call (201) 262-HELP.