By: Sarah Kelly, Staff Counselor, USM Health & Counseling
The holiday season is often associated with words like peace, love and joy with idyllic scenes of family, food, festivity and cheer. However, for many the holidays can be a time of increased stress, sadness and grief. The holidays can increase feelings of loss, particularly for people who have recently experienced the death of someone close to them, or for others who have experienced a difficult break up of a relationship.
These losses can leave people feeling a deep sense of sadness, regret and loneliness. For others, going home for the holidays can be a difficult and stressful time due to family and financial circumstances and stressors.
For college students in particular, on top of family, relationship and financial stressors, the holidays are also sprinkled with increased academic pressure and final exams. Students are trying to figure out, often for the first time as they move into adulthood, how to juggle all of the demands on top of holiday stressors. The ironic part is that as stress and depressive symptoms increase, healthy coping skills and stress reduction techniques often get lost in the chaos.
There are several ways to prevent or lessen holiday stress and depression, according to the Mayo Clinic (Nov 2017). The following are some of the “top tips” for beating holiday stress:
1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings.
2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
3. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.
4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. Be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry, chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression too.
5. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget.
6. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and family will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity.
7. Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Try and continue to incorporate exercise and healthy sleep habits.
8. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm, such as taking a walk, listening to music or reading a book.
9. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
It is important to remember that stress and sadness are an inevitable part of life; however, there are ways to minimize and lessen some of the stressors and struggles we face at various times in our lives, by trying to incorporate some of the healthy tips noted above, connecting to support systems, and remembering that you are not alone.