There is a lot that goes into the holidays, and in this busy holiday season, when Thanksgiving runs right into Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and New Years – not to mention end of the year parties, holiday celebrations can quickly become overwhelming. A big culprit for the heightened emotions and overwhelm of the holidays is stress, from the stress of managing increased social expectations, the stress of increased family interactions, the stress of consumerism and object demands, and the stress of continuing to maintain your non-holiday responsibilities.
The American Psychological Association (APA) looked to better understand the impact of the holidays on our emotional well-being. They conducted a survey and found that holiday stress reportedly impacts women more than men, and that the impact of the consumerism focus has a greater impact on lower and middle class individuals. Their survey also found increased positive emotional experiences, like joy and love, in addition to negative emotions such as fatigue and stress. Workplace stressors continue to occur during the holiday season, with an added stressor of concern that one may not have enough time off of work. There is a reported increase in sedentary coping skills, such as watching TV, or comfort eating.
There has been a myth that depression and suicidality increases over the holiday, though a literature review in 2011 found that while mood can worsen over the holidays, and there is an increase in alcohol related fatalities and hospital admissions, the true risk lies after the holiday season, the “holiday letdown,” when the structure and excitement of the holidays has passed, and the cold winter January comes along with the credit card bills and holiday hangover. Not to mention seasonal affective disorder, a mood disorder correlated with the shorter days of winter months.
It helps to be aware of this information when planning how to cope and make it through the bustle of the holiday season. Knowing what pitfalls to look out for is the first step – and additional tips that can help include:
- Prioritize self-care routines. If you just don’t feel like yourself without a morning run, that second cup of coffee, or an evening bubble bath, make it part of your holiday habits, as well. There are a lot of things demanding your time and attention, and it is likely not possible that you will be able to make every event, invitation, dinner, party, and gathering. Make sure that you are fully yourself for the activities you do have the bandwidth for, by making sure to connect with yourself and allow yourself to be self-nurtured.
- Plan in advance. Set a holiday budget, a holiday calendar, and a holiday to-do list. Try to plan as much in advance as you can, so that when you are faced with split decisions like an enticing display at the store, you have practiced your will-power, and you can avoid the money pitfalls and stress that accompanies the holidays. Mark time on your calendar for self-care, as well as time for family, friends, and obligations. Plan for flexibility, as much as possible. Sometimes the weather, holiday illnesses, or competing demands will force your plans to change – it helps to have a good understanding of what you are already committed to as you adapt to these changes.
- Practice moderation. It can be tempting to eat every treat, and drink every libation presented to you at holiday gatherings – and typically abundance is a theme at holiday celebrations. Practice eating and drinking mindfully. Know yourself, and know what foods and drinks make you feel good – and which ones are associated with regret or uncomfortable body sensations.
- Reflect. Remember that holiday celebrations are about gathering and sharing joy. Remind yourself of this intention, and remind yourself that the holiday season is temporary, and that life goes on post New Years Day.
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