The holiday season is often referred to as the most wonderful time of the year. There are countless holiday songs and movies that remind you of the joy you should be feeling from November through the New Year.
But if these annual reminders fully expressed the sentiments of its listening audience, it would acknowledge not just the joyous part of the holidays, but also its challenges and the stress experienced as a result.
Though common, people often feel guilty for experiencing any stress, anxiety, or even depression while everyone else seems to be smiling their way through the holiday season. But the truth is, the holidays bring challenges for everyone, as much as—or perhaps even more so—than any other time of the year.
A number of things can leave you feeling stressed, anxious, or sad during the holidays, including:
- Financial pressures
- Hectic schedules (i.e., shopping, cooking, and traveling)
- Family relationships and dynamics
- Unrealistic expectations
- Pressure to meet demands
- An expectation to “feel good” while ignoring true feelings
The holidays can also trigger unhappy memories (or conversely, memories of how much better things used to be), spark loneliness, and highlight what has changed in your life—perhaps a divorce or loss of a loved one. With the pressure to “grin and bear it,” it’s no wonder many people are left feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.
These intensified feelings of anxiety and depression experienced before Thanksgiving through the New Year are called the “holiday blues.”
Unlike clinical depression, anxiety disorders, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the holiday blues are typically temporary and end once the holidays are over. Symptoms may also be less profound than a diagnosable disorder. According to the American Psychological Association, symptoms that linger or intensify with time—and do not go away on their own—may indicate something more serious and require professional attention.
While holiday stress may not be 100 percent preventable, here are five steps to eliminate some of the pressure you put on yourself, decrease the frequency and intensity of unpleasant symptoms, and increase your level of enjoyment this holiday season.
1. Acknowledge How You’re Feeling Without Judgment
There is no shame in feeling sad, stressed, or anxious around the holidays. Given everything that goes on, it should almost be expected. Acknowledging and welcoming all emotions without judging yourself will pave the way to self-compassion. Instead of beating yourself up for how you “should” be feeling, give yourself a little break. Keep in mind the holiday season can be a stressful time, and that whatever you may be feeling as a result is entirely acceptable.
2. Let Go of Unrealistic Expectations
There is often a vision of how the holidays should go: shopping done ahead of time, the house in perfect order, and family members getting along beautifully. As you know all too well, things do not always go as you imaged they would. And the higher you set your expectations, the more disappointed you will feel when they aren’t met.
Trying to make everything absolutely perfect is exhausting, frustrating, and doesn’t leave any time for actual enjoyment. The ultimate goal of the holidays should be to enjoy yourself and those around you, not a dust-free house or perfectly wrapped presents.
3. Take a Break from Social Media
Accepting that everything this holiday season doesn’t need to be perfect will be a lot easier if you avoid social media, where most people portray an image and not the reality of their lives. This image doesn’t broadcast their family dysfunction or the incident on Thanksgiving when the turkey was overcooked. Instead, it gives the illusion that things are perfect.
Instead of comparing your reality to this false perfection, use that time to engage your loved ones in a holiday tradition or perhaps start a new one. Recognize that what you have in front of you is enough.
4. Respect Your Needs
This holiday season, listen to what your body and mind tell you. If you’re too tired to run that last errand or if holiday parties have left you emotionally drained, take a step back and allow time for you. Prioritize the things you absolutely need to get done and the social gatherings you plan to attend, but then schedule plenty of time for restful activities, even if it’s taking 10 minutes to enjoy a cup of coffee and a good book. Don’t feel guilty for tending to your needs. By doing so, you’ll find yourself feeling more energized, productive, and engaged.
5. Have an Action Plan
If anxiety and depression should appear, or worsen, this holiday season, have an action plan in place. Prepare a list of things that may help lift your mood such as:
- Calling up a friend
- Going for a walk in nature
- Listening to music
Keep in mind that you are deserving of this time to better yourself. Try to get in the habit of acknowledging when you are feeling low and resort to your plan.
Believe it or not, there is a silver lining to the stress, loneliness, and sadness the holidays can bring. The holidays can build mental strength and push you to grow emotionally—two things that can be carried well into the New Year.