Thu | Feb 2, 2023

Managing stress in the season

Published:Wednesday | December 7, 2022 | 12:06 AM

There are several reasons your days may not be ‘merry and bright’ around the holiday season. These may include having a jam-packed social calendar, deadlines at work, the loss of a loved one, or all of the above.

There are, however, ways in which we can prepare ourselves and hopefully deflect some of the increased stress of the holidays. It is important to realise that we do have more control than we think we do. It is equally important to realise that even if we put these ideas into practice and continue to feel overwhelmed or depressed, professional help is available.

Being surrounded by cheeriness can be stigmatising when you do not feel the same level of enthusiasm as others. The pressure to be social, happy, and present can make it difficult to speak up if you feel otherwise. You may also feel left out if your spiritual traditions are not the dominant ones on display this time of year.

However, recognise that you do not need to force yourself to be happy, and that it is OK to acknowledge feelings that are not joyful. Remember that you are not alone in feeling this way.

Avoid numbing your feelings with excessive use of alcohol or other substances, as these can worsen anxiety and depression.

KNOW YOUR TRIGGERS

Keisha Bowla-Hines, associate clinical psychologist and coordinator for counselling services for the South East Regional Health Authority, Liguanea region, says it is important to understand that triggers for holiday angst come from many sources. “Memories, stressful patterns that seem to occur every holiday, or potential new crises are common triggers,” she said.

She says persons can, instead, prepare for the possible occurrence by understanding how different triggers affect you, and so help to reduce that stress build-up. Additionally, by finding out why you become anxious or sad around the holidays, you may be able to safely navigate the rest of the season.

If you are living with grief, loss, trauma or loneliness, it can be easy to compare your situation to others’, which can increase feelings of loneliness or sadness. Take time to check in with yourself and your feelings, and have realistic expectations for how the holiday season will be.

According to Bowla-Hines, if holiday observances seem inauthentic right now, you do not need to force yourself to celebrate. During this time, connect with, and plan to check in with a support group, a therapist, a faith community, or friends who understand.

“As much as possible, let your loved ones know how they can support you, whether it is helping you with shopping or meeting up for a regular walk. Often, people want to help but don’t know what to say or where to start,” she said.

We all have our own personal history with holidays. We dream about the ways the holidays are supposed to be, which can be a dangerous perspective. We get caught up in wanting to do it all, but we can aim to set more realistic expectations for ourselves and others.

Accept your limitations, and be patient with others, too. Try to see others’ points of view and recognise that we are all feeling at least a little stressed, especially this year. Prioritise the most important activities or plan get-togethers for after the holidays.

If you feel overwhelmed by social obligations and what others are asking of you, learn how to be comfortable saying no.

“Regardless of your plans, it can be helpful to communicate intentions to friends and family early in the holiday season so everyone knows what to expect,” she said.

PRACTISE SELF-CARE

It is very common to get caught up in the commercialisation and marketing of the holidays. We can feel stressed about spending on a strained budget or from trying to find just the right gift. Giving to others is not about spending money. And, of course, what goes along with setting realistic expectations is maintaining a budget and being transparent.

“Consider how much money you can comfortably spend and stick to the amount. If purchasing gifts for everyone is difficult, to reduce the number of items everyone needs to buy, you can also simply let people know you are unable to give gifts this year,” she said.

You can also give the gift of helping a neighbour, a friend, a family member, or a stranger. It is the act of giving that is more important than a present. Our generosity can be a gift to ourselves, because when we focus on others, and less on ourselves, we tend to reduce our anxiety.

While it is true that many of us have friends and family to connect with during the holiday season, there is also the danger of becoming isolated. If you are predisposed to depression or anxiety, it can be especially hard to reach out to others.

“Remind yourself of the people, places, and things that make you feel happy. Consider planning a regular call or video chat with friends on a weekly or biweekly basis so you do not have to think twice about making the effort,” she said.

Calming activities, such as reading, meditating, and gratitude journalling, can be helpful if you do not feel comfortable in social situations.

“Do not forget about self-care. We know the importance of a balanced diet, moderate exercise, and plenty of sleep, but because there are so many distractions and stressors this time of year, we lose sight of some of the basic necessities. We need to take care of ourselves and pay increased attention to ensuring we fulfil these areas of our lives as we get closer to the holidays,” Bowla-Hines said.

Talk to your mental health professional or your doctor if you have been feeling anxious or depressed for more than two weeks, or if the holidays are long gone and you are still feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed.

K.H.