Is everyone looking forward to the holidays? While the holiday season is usually a joyful time filled with gatherings and celebrations, not everyone may be looking forward to the holidays. In fact, holidays tend to be quite distressing for a lot of people and this is something that we need to be very sensitive about and mindful of so that we can provide appropriate care and support to one another.
Holidays may be very difficult if an upsetting or traumatic experience occurred during a past holiday season, which could bring upsetting memories and feelings of sadness and isolation. Suffering from any type of illness, or the death of a loved one or the inability to be with loved ones during the holiday season can provoke feelings of sadness, loneliness and unhappiness. Feeling excessively anxious in crowded situations or places, in social settings, or speaking in public, could make it very difficult to attend social functions, holiday parties and at times going to a crowded store or mall to buy holiday gifts or other holiday items.
Fear of being on a plane or of flying can also add more stress when having to make travel arrangements for holidays and can lead to avoidance of travelling and subsequently missing certain engagements, which in turn, can exacerbate one’s distress. Feeling or becoming indecisive is a common symptom of various mental health problems in particular depression and anxiety disorders. This indecisiveness, in turn, could lead to feelings of being overwhelmed or frustration when faced with plenty of decisions that need to be made during holiday seasons such as for gifts, food, decoration, travelling etc.
Struggling with financial strains and debts can also increase stress during the holiday seasons due to associated expenses. After overcoming addiction and attempting to remain abstinent, one could become vulnerable to relapse during the holidays where alcohol tends to be present at most parties and others tend to overindulge on alcohol during those times. As well, when taking prescription medications, one needs to be mindful of not mixing alcohol with medications.
Suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can also make holiday seasons quite difficult. SAD is a type of depression that tends to be affected by the weather and time of the year. It usually occurs during the fall and winter and the mood and symptoms improve during the spring and summer. Typical symptoms include sad mood, increased sleep, increased appetite and weight gain. It is not uncommon to experience mood changes during times where there is decreased sunlight. The symptoms of SAD, however, tend to be severe enough to cause significant distress and interfere with the person’s social, occupational or academic functioning.
Some coping tips:
- Take care of yourself. Maintain proper sleep hygiene and healthy diet; engage in regular pleasurable activities; take prescription medications as recommended and do not mix them with alcohol; limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption and sweets, and do regular physical exercise.
- Prioritize your activities. If there are numerous social gatherings to attend and it becomes difficult to commit to all of them, prioritize the ones to attend. You can balance attending social gatherings and setting up some more quiet and relaxing time for yourself.
- Avoid self-isolation. Some groups or religious organizations can provide you with a great opportunity to meet people and not being alone.
- Participate in holiday activities with family and friends as much as possible, such as home decor, cooking or wrapping gifts.
- Plan ahead. Set up a budget, prioritize activities and set up realistic goals.
- Ask for help. It is best not to avoid any activity that is perceived to be important. Seeking social support, asking for help and focusing on your strengths can often help towards having completion of an activity rather than avoidance. If suffering from a substance use problem, the holiday season can be difficult due to the social gatherings and the use of alcohol during those times. The following link “Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines” by CAMH helps to reduce the harms related to alcohol us
- Reach out. Helping those in need and giving to others can provide a great sense of satisfaction. For example, you might choose to help out at a food bank or other organizations or donate clothes or toys to those in need.