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Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

Condensed from WebMD Feature: 25 Ways to Find Joy and Balance During the Holidays – By R. Morgan Griffin

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feeling down during the holidays can be tough, especially since you seem so out of step with the world.

“I think a lot of people would say that the holidays are the worst time of the year,” says Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “They’re just straight-up miserable, and that’s not only for people with clinical depression. ”

But people with depression — or who have had depression in the past — need to be especially careful when coping with holiday stress. While it might take some conscious effort on your part, you can reduce stress — and maybe even find some holiday joy, too. Here are some tips:

  1. Keep your expectations modest.
    Don’t get hung up on what the holidays are supposed to be like and how you’re supposed to feel. So don’t worry about the holiday spirit and take the holidays as they come.
  2. Do something different.
    This year, does the prospect of the usual routine fill you with holiday dread rather than holiday joy? Try something different. Spend Christmas day at the movie theater. …..skip gifts and instead donate the money to a charity.
  3. Lean on your support system.
    If you’ve been depressed, you need a network of close friends and family to turn to when things get tough, says David Shern, PhD, president and CEO of Mental Health America in Alexandria.
  4. Don’t assume the worst.
    “I think some people go into the holidays with expectations so low that it makes them more depressed,” says Duckworth. If you try to take the holidays as they come and limit your expectations — both good and bad — you may enjoy them more.
  5. Forget the unimportant stuff.
    So what if you don’t get the lights on the roof this year? Give yourself a break. Worrying about such trivial stuff will not add to your holiday spirit.
  6. Volunteer.
    …But consider taking time to help people who have less than you. Try volunteering at a soup kitchen or working for a toy drive. “You could really find some comfort from it,” says Duckworth, “knowing that you’re making a small dent in the lives of people who have so little.”
  7. Head off problems.
    Think about what people or situations trigger your holiday stress and figure out ways to avoid them. You really have more control than you think.
  8. Ask for help
    — but be specific. People may be more willing to help out than you expect; they just need some guidance from you on what to do.
  9. Don’t worry about things beyond your control.
    So your uncle and your dad get into a fight every holiday dinner and it makes you miserable. But remember your limits. You can’t control them. But you can control your own reaction to the situation.
  10. Make new family traditions.
    People often feel compelled to keep family holiday traditions alive long past the point that anyone’s actually enjoying them.. “Start a new holiday tradition instead,” says Gloria Pope, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance in Chicago. “Create one that’s more meaningful to you personally.”
  11. Find positive ways to remember loved ones.
    Holidays may remind you of the loved ones who aren’t around anymore. But instead of just feeling glum, do something active to celebrate their memory.
  12. Don’t Overbook

    “The holidays last for weeks and weeks,” says Pope. “People really need to pace themselves or they’ll get overwhelmed.”

  13. Don’t stay longer than you want.
    Going to a party doesn’t obligate you to stay until the bitter end. Instead, just drop by for a few minutes, say hello, and explain you have other engagements.
  14. Have a partner for the party.
    If the prospect of an office party is causing holiday stress, talk to a friend and arrange to arrive — and leave — together. You may feel much better knowing you have an ally and a plan of escape.
  15. Forget about the perfect gift.
    If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, now is not the time to fret about finding the absolute best gift ever for your great aunt or your mailman.
  16. Shop online.
    Save yourself the inconvenience, the crowds, and the horrors of the mall parking lot by doing the bulk of your shopping online.
  17. Stick to a budget.
    So draw up a budget long before you actually start your shopping and stick to it.
  18. Stay on schedule.
    As much as you possibly can, try to stick with your normal routine during the holidays. Don’t stay too late at parties. Don’t pull an all-nighter wrapping presents. Disrupting your schedule and losing out on sleep can make your mood deteriorate.
  19. Exercise.
    While you may not feel like you have the time to exercise during the holidays, the benefits are worth it. “We know that exercise has a pretty strong anti-anxiety, anti-depression effect,” says Duckworth. You can work physical activity into your errands.
  20. Eat sensibly.
    When you’re facing a dozen holiday parties and family gatherings between now and New Year’s, it’s hard to stay committed to a sensible diet. But try. Eating healthy may keep you feeling better — physically and emotionally.
  21. Don’t rely on holiday spirits (or other substances.)
    “The holidays are a time of heavy drinking,” says Duckworth. Remember that alcohol is itself a depressant and abusing it will leave you feeling worse. It also may not be safe for people taking antidepressant medication, says Pope.
  22. Try a sun lamp.
    As the daylight grows shorter, lots of people find their mood gets gloomier. While some have diagnosed seasonal affective disorder (SAD), even people who don’t may still have a seasonal aspect to their depression. Talk to your doctor about trying a sun lamp. It could improve your mood
  23. If you take medication, don’t miss doses.
    In the hustle of the holidays, it’s easy to slack off and miss medication, says Pope. Don’t let that happen. Make sure that you’re up-to-date on your refills, too.
  24. If you see a therapist, have extra meetings.
    To stay grounded, plan ahead and schedule some extra sessions during the holiday season. Or you could ask about the possibility of doing quick phone check-ins.
  25.  Give yourself a break.
    “The holidays can make some people dwell on their imperfections, their mistakes, the things they’re not proud of,” Duckworth tells WebMD. But try to cut yourself some slack. “This is not an easy time of year for a lot of people,” Duckworth says. “Be gentle with yourself.” It is the season of kindness and forgiveness, after all. Save some of it for yourself.

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