After a year of global warnings against bigger get togethers, many families are reporting increased gratitude for being able to celebrate the holidays together this year, whether locally, or with a new appreciation to travel.
As Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season, it is a great time to reflect on gratitude and what new insights we might have gained from the last year and a half when it comes to family and togetherness. Historically, many people report that the holidays are a mixed bag. We crave the together time with family and the traditions we have come to expect. Yet, the holidays also create stress, anxiety, and for many, more severe depression.
As we approach this holiday, how can we create mindfulness around the traditions that illicit joy, and rework the traditions that heap on the negative feelings around stress, anxiety and depression?
Meal prep, table settings, family expectations, finding the perfect gift, waiting in lines, coordinating schedules - these are just a few of the pieces that create increased stress during the holiday season. Coming into a new space with the holiday, have thoughtful conversations with family around sharing the load, and how the holiday might work best for you this year. Teach compromise, decide what is most important to you and then suggest the same of family and work the holiday for as many of the family's top needs are met.
Anxiety through the holidays season shows up in many different ways. For some, anxiety shows up through behaviors, both positive (increase exercise, increased/compulsive productivity, excess cleaning) and/or negative (stress eating, nail biting, hair pulling, sleep disruptions, etc) ones. For others the anxiety effects mood, you can see an increase in running thoughts and catastrophic thinking, or total shut down where the anxiety is so much that getting anything done is nearly impossible. Ways to manage such anxiety is first, to be aware of what is causing it. Is the anxiety coming from increase in family time and old dynamics? Is the anxiety stemming from the secular calendar and feelings you should be in a different place than you expected to be? Or, is the anxiety something you anticipate because the word "holidays" coexists with anxious feelings? Once you are aware of where your anxiety stems from, create a plan on how to manage it? Set small goals to achieve that are tangible. For example, if the anxiety stems from a lot of together time, plan a chunk of time where you can go into a quiet space for you time, or give yourself a few hours to connect followed by a 20 minute break where you excuse yourself for that alone time. If the anxiety comes from planning meals or outings, ask for help from other family members.
Working through Depression and when to seek support:
The holidays often see a surge in depression. Again, this can have a myriad of reasons. It's important to acknowledge if you have a history with depressive symptoms this time of year, and then to plan accordingly. Management can often be similar to managing anxiety in setting up small attainable goals that will help you move through any depressive symptoms. Plan to connect with people that fill your bucket if family time depletes it. If it's challenging to see all the shiny happy people on social media, allow yourself a holiday break and fill that time with things that improve your sense of well being. If you notice that yours, or someone close to you, feelings of sadness or hopelessness, loss of interest in normal activities, or increase in sleep disturbances (too little or too much) increases significantly reach out for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255, is available 24hrs a day and can help you manage through any extreme feelings and get you support.