Although the holidays are a time of joy for many, they can trigger anxiety and depression symptoms for others. Robert Hales, chair of the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, explains how to beat common tension causes and determine if your condition is more severe.
Overcome Seasonal Stressors
Time change: When daylight-saving time ends, up to one-third of people who suffer from a major depressive disorder will experience worsening symptoms. Those without clinical depression often report decreased energy, sadness, less interest or pleasure in activities, and sleep disturbances. Get more morning sunlight and spend time outdoors.
Increased alcohol use: While celebrating during the holiday season is customary, many revelers drink too much. Alcoholism and depression frequently go together. Limit your drinking and remember that you can be festive without imbibing. If you aren’t feeling jovial, don’t force yourself to express traditional merriment.
Overeating: Thanks to multiple feasting occasions, everyone has a tendency to eat too much, which can lead to feeling worse about your body image and yourself. Obesity is a major American problem you need to avoid. So eat slowly without overindulging.
Lack of sleep: Many people spend more time socializing and staying out later than usual during the jolliest season of the year. Unfortunately, decreased sleep is a major contributor to feeling tired and lethargic during the day, which can increase depressive symptoms. Maintain healthy sleep habits year round.
Overscheduling: You may feel the need to rejoice with everyone you haven’t seen during the year. But a packed schedule can provoke a constant sense of rushing. The need to reconnect with so many over such a short period can be overwhelming. Consider carefully whom you really want to see so you don’t overbook yourself.
Lack of planning: Running around malls at the last minute because you procrastinated buying gifts adds a great deal of stress and contributes to holiday blues. Plan better this year by spreading your shopping out over a longer, more relaxed period.
Unrealistic personal expectations: Throughout the season, you may meet people who are successful and advancing in their careers. This might lead you to place unrealistic expectations on yourself regarding your own accomplishments or perceived shortcomings and failures. Be realistic about what you want to achieve professionally and personally. Don’t assume that the holidays will cure past or current problems. They won’t make sadness disappear magically. If you feel lonely, seek out community, religious, or other social events.
Idealistic fantasies about your family: Various holiday movies promote the unattainable ideal of the picture-perfect happy family. Unrealistic expectations that your own relatives should meet these impossibly high standards can be quite depressing. Be realistic and focus on your family’s strengths rather than weaknesses.
Insufficient exercise: Because of winter weather and hectic schedules, many people skip their workout routines. Exercise helps prevent depression, and decreasing your regular amount can worsen symptoms. So make time be active.
Lack of personal time: A major focus of the holidays is providing for others. Neglecting yourself during this time is all too common. This externalization of efforts can deplete your reserves and worsen your anxiety or depression. Don’t let your personal care slide. Reserve time to reflect, reassess, and plan for the future privately.
Get the Correct Diagnosis and Treatment
Hales offers advice on how to distinguish the seasonal blues from other mental conditions. Generalized anxiety disorder is an excessive or unrealistic apprehension that causes physical symptoms and lasts six months or longer. Depression is the world’s most common mental ailment. A major depressive disorder can destroy your joy for living and make focusing on work and other responsibilities impossible.
Stress-related events such as special occasions may trigger half of all depressive episodes. You may experience hopelessness, sadness, and tearfulness throughout the day. Thoughts of death or suicide may enter your mind. Because the holidays can bring your mood down, recognizing the signs of major depression is important. Seek help from your primary care physician if you experience many of these symptoms to such severity that they interfere with your normal relationships:
Feeling depressed, sad, and discouraged
Loss of interest in formerly pleasurable and enjoyable activities
Eating more or less than usual or gaining or losing weight
Having trouble sleeping or sleeping more than you do normally
Feeling slow or restless
Lack of energy
Feeling hopeless, helpless, or inadequate
Difficulty thinking clearly or making decisions
Withdrawal from others and loss of interest in sex
Persistent thoughts of death or suicide
Various physical symptoms
Your doctor may prescribe a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor like Lexapro that works on unbalanced brain chemicals to relieve both anxiety and depression symptoms.
Embrace the Spirit of Giving
Peak performance strategist Tony Robbins notes that two-thirds of women report feelings of depression during the holidays. No matter how severe your current problem may be, he advises remembering that this special season is all about being thankful and kind. Go a step further by expressing your gratitude to others, which will create a cycle of connectedness. Help someone else who’s worse off than you are. Nothing will lift your mood more than being a giver, not just a taker.