Newswise — Although the holiday season can be a time for joy, fun, and family, it is also common for people to feel overwhelmed or experience temporary anxiety, stress, or sadness. Learning how to recognize and manage these feelings and stressors — as well as understanding when you need to seek mental health treatment — is a critical part of your wintertime well-being.
Here are five common holiday-related stressors and recommendations for how to manage them.
Family and Social Pressures
Family visits and holiday parties are a common source of seasonal anxiety. From planning and hosting events to a packed social calendar, too much activity may cause you to feel overwhelmed during the holiday season.
Planning ahead for holiday parties and family visits can help you prepare for the event and may eliminate some stress. It is also important that you build in some time to recover after the event.
If you know a family visit or social event will trigger anxiety, plan to do something relaxing right afterward — such as going home and reading a good book. Avoid packing too many visits and social events into your schedule without allowing yourself any downtime.
Many people have unreasonable expectations of themselves — and others — during the holiday season. Remember that the holidays don’t have to be perfect to be fun and memorable.
Holiday routines and traditions can provide a sense of comfort and security, and you may feel obligated to keep your celebrations the same year after year. But although it may be difficult for you or others to cope with change, you should do your best to embrace it when necessary.
It’s okay to adjust holiday routines and traditions to reflect new and different circumstances. For example, if visiting family and friends in person becomes too difficult due to increased obligations, having children, health concerns, or any other reason, you may still be able to connect with loved ones using email or video chat.
Holiday celebrations typically involve lots of food — some of which may not be diet- or allergy-friendly for you or your loved ones.
If you have special dietary needs, share them with your party host or caterer in advance of the party and ask about what is in the food. If you are attending a potluck or buffet, serving yourself first may help you avoid cross-contamination with foods that are in other dishes.
Also, if you aren’t sure about what type of food will be at a party and don’t feel comfortable asking the host or caterer, it’s okay to skip the meal — just make sure you eat beforehand so you don’t feel hungry.
Holiday parties often feature special holiday cocktails that may contain hidden ingredients that could affect food allergies or sensitivities. If you are unsure about any ingredients, stick to beverages that you know are safe for you. The same goes for baked goods, which also are a common source of hidden ingredients.
If you have a severe food allergy, be mindful of how you greet others who may have consumed an allergen-containing food. The safest bet is to skip handshakes and kisses, which could trigger an allergic reaction.
And, if you or a loved one has an epinephrine injector, you should be sure to carry it with you at all times.
Maintaining Diet, Exercise, and Sleep Routines
Gaining a few extra pounds may be a seasonal rite of passage for some, but it can be a significant source of stress for anyone who is trying to lose or maintain their weight. Changes in exercise and sleep routines can also be a source of stress and may lead to worsening of other health conditions.
Maintaining a diet, exercise, and sleep routine during the holidays can provide you with consistency during a time that can feel overwhelming and disorganized. Sticking to your plan can also help to keep your mood stable and your immune system strong, which can help you more effectively manage stressful situations. It can also help keep other health conditions in check.
Feelings of Sadness, Loneliness, or Loss
If you have experienced a recent traumatic event, family conflict, or loss of a loved one, the holidays may cause you to feel especially sad or lonely. Even if the event isn’t recent, the holidays can still bring up strong feelings.
It’s important to recognize that these feelings are normal, and it’s okay to be sad or lonely. It’s also okay to express how you are feeling. Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you have to feel happy all the time.
Engaging in activities you enjoy and getting outside in the fresh air and sunlight may help to boost your mood. Participating in community events or helping others through volunteering may provide a way for you to socialize and give back.
Wishing you wellness and happiness this holiday season!
These tips for reducing seasonal stress and anxiety can help you have a safe and healthy holiday season.
However, if you are feeling very overwhelmed, anxious, or sad during the holidays, please talk to a healthcare professional, especially if these feelings last a long time and don’t go away.
By Dr. Rachel Chung, Family Medicine, Western Connecticut Medical Group New Canaan Primary & Immediate Care
Check out this related article: 4 Essentials for Winter Health and Safety