Editor’s note: Andrea is on vacation. This column was previously published in the Aspen Daily News.
For some, the holiday season means spending time with friends and family, celebrating connection and enjoying relationships. For others, the holiday season is a stressful time of the year. Personal tragedies, financial and occupational struggles, and loneliness are among the many factors that lead people to dread the holiday season. In addition to potentially stressful family gatherings, reminders of lost loved ones can feel most poignant at this time. When stress is at its peak, it’s hard to feel peace and balance. However, there are many things you can do to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.
First and foremost, acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that feelings of sadness and grief are natural and healthy responses to loss and absence. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
Know that you are not alone and do not have to be alone. There are many ways to spend your time with the community during the holiday season. Many people use this time to volunteer or attend religious or social gatherings. Others reach out to neighbors, friends and acquaintances who also are alone during the holiday season. Volunteering, in particular, can lift feelings of worthlessness or loneliness through social connection and purpose.
The holiday season is sometimes associated with unrealistic ideas of holiday perfection; be realistic. Your holiday is more likely to feel joyous if you don’t have the expectation of perfection. As people change and grow, so must traditions change and grow. Allow yourself to create new holiday rituals and to set aside differences. By setting aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion, we allow for a sense of connection despite imperfection.
A critical peace of mental health and stress reduction is the ability to comfortably say “no.” When we feel internal or external pressure to always say “yes” to the next request, we can begin to feel resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and family will understand if you can’t meet every request, or participate in every idea. It’s important that you allow yourself to experience a sense of balance between that which you feel you should do and that which you want to do.
For some, holiday stress stems from financial pressure. To reduce stress during the holiday season, it is important to plan ahead with regard to both budget and activity. Set a budget for both gift and food to allow for a sense of accomplishment without the stress. Plan ahead to balance the number of tasks to be completed on a given day. Provide yourself with reminders of healthy financial habits and positive affirmations that will reduce the possibility of unnecessary guilt or stress.
Most importantly, take care of yourself. Make time to engage in activities that bring you joy, and consciously invite balance into your life and decision-making. Maintain existing healthy habits, and make sure that you are getting plenty of sleep and physical activity. Finally, seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious in a way that prevents you from living your life to the fullest. If these feelings last for a while, call the Aspen Counseling Center for support.
Andrea Pazdera, Ph.D., is the program director of the Aspen Counseling Center. If you have any questions or would like to make a comment, Andrea may be reached at 920-5555, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .