While the holidays are a time of joy and sharing, they can also be a source of significant physical and mental stress. Dealing with holiday stress requires prioritizing as well as avoiding or reducing as many stressors as possible. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts offer tips to help you deal with vacation stress and the feeling of sadness.
Many people begin to feel dissatisfied around the holiday, and the reasons can vary from the weather to personal loss, the feeling of being disconnected from others, financial strain and countless other reasons, said Miquela Smith, AgriLife Extensions Health Specialist for Disaster Assessment and Recovery Unit and a mental health first aid instructor.
“In some cases, these winter blues can be more serious and affect how a person feels, thinks and handles daily activities,” Smith said. “Usually, the holiday blues are temporary feelings of loss, anxiety, tension, frustration or loneliness. But more marked changes in mood or behavior can mean that the person is suffering from seasonal affective disorder or SAD, which is a form of depression.”
Stress, unrealistic expectations or even sentimental memories can be a catalyst for holiday blues. Other factors may be less sunlight, changes in diet or daily routines, alcohol or inability to be with friends or family. In addition to the blues, some people may experience anxiety during the holidays.
“Something that can help if you start to feel overwhelmed during the holidays is recognizing what things you have control over compared to what is not,” Smith said. “This perspective can be valuable during the holidays when we are not able to keep normal schedules and routines.”
She said an example could be responding to a family member you do not agree with at a gathering.
“You can not control what that person does or says, but you can control whether you spend time with or engage in conversation with that person,” she said. “Similarly, if a particular event or social gathering is stressful for you for whatever reason, you can make the decision to stay only for a short period of time.”
Smith said some additional tips for dealing with holiday stress and feelings of sadness include:
- Recognizing to yourself that it’s OK to feel unhappy
- To stick to known or normal routines as much as possible
- Reach out to others for support and camaraderie
- Learning to say “no” to holiday activities that you do not have time for or that are likely to cause stress
- Eat healthy meals and get adequate rest
- Avoid excessive eating and drinking
- Incorporate regular physical activity into your daily routine
- Occasionally breathes to walk or listen to music
“Some people also reduce stress through mindfulness activities such as meditation or yoga,” Smith said. “Others can get a psychological benefit from doing something to help others on vacation, such as volunteering to deliver meals. Try to find something to do that will make you feel more relaxed and promote your emotional well-being. “
Finally, Smith said, if despite your best efforts, you are not able to reverse these negative emotions, it may be time to seek professional help.
“If you realize that these symptoms have lasted for more than a few weeks and your self-help tactics do not seem to help, it may be your way to consult your doctor or a mental health professional,” she said. “People who are already living with a mental illness should take extra care of their overall health and well-being during the holidays, as this time of year can be particularly stressful. As with any health condition, early intervention gives the best results and it is better to talk to someone sooner rather than later. “
Prioritize and plan ahead
“Holiday stress can come from interpersonal relationships, financial pressures, time management issues, lack of sleep and a host of other factors,” said Joyce Cavanagh, AgriLife Extension Specialist at the Agency’s Family and Community Health Unit. “Financial pressures and time constraints are often the biggest stressors during the holidays, so make sure you plan your holiday shopping and family time adequately.”
Cavanagh said you should make sure to budget with gifts you plan to buy during Christmas shopping and, when possible, pay with cash or a debit card.
“Be realistic when creating a budget by using real prices, not ball fields,” she said. “Do not forget to include travel, food and entertainment expenses in your holiday budget. And write down what you have bought so that you do not lose track of how much you have spent.”
Cavanagh also noted that a lot of time management-related stress can be alleviated by “filling in” some extra time when planning visits or entertaining and by asking others for help with holiday activities.
“Try to avoid multiple visits and build in extra time to provide flexibility and accommodate any unforeseen circumstances,” she said. “Prioritize what’s really important to you and your family, and then plan your vacation activities accordingly.”
Manage your dining – and your expectations
Jenna Anding, an AgriLife Extension specialist from Texas A & M’s Department of Nutrition, said holiday stress can lead to overeating.
“For some individuals, overeating is a challenge to individual well-being at this time of year, especially if food is used as a means of responding to stress,” Anding said. “Pay attention to what and when you eat. And when given the opportunity, choose foods that are lower in saturated fat, salt and added sugar.”
Angela McCorkle, another AgriLife Extension specialist with the agency’s Family and Community Health Unit, said it was important to keep expectations realistic during the holidays.
“Basing expectations or experiences on what we see on social media or in the lives of others can cause stress,” McCorkle said. “We can put ourselves under unnecessary pressure to create shared memories instead of enjoying time with our loved ones.”
She said it is important to focus on the positive experiences associated with the holiday, and not be worried about what other people are doing and what you might be missing out on.