December 15, 2021
POTSDAM, NY – Stores busy with shoppers, Christmas music on the radio, and planning for gatherings may be exciting and happy for some people, but sad or anxiety-ridden for others.
A certain level of stress is typical for most of us during this time of year, and remembering not to put too much pressure on yourself or your loved ones is important. St. Lawrence Health Director of Outpatient Psychiatric Services Laurie Zweifel, PhD, pointed out that not everyone manages stress the same way, and what might be nerve-wracking for one person may be quite different for another.
“The holidays are a happy time of year for some, but for others (adults and children), they can be more difficult. Our daily structure and routines often change and can become more hectic and overwhelming. One way to manage stress for yourself and family members is to keep a daily routine and maintain control over the things we can,” she said. “Ask yourself ‘does this really matter,’ plan ahead as much as possible, and prioritize what is most important.”
Other coping tools include setting clear boundaries and knowing your limits, realize it is okay to decline invitations and activities, take breaks and make time for yourself, and avoid overeating and excessive use of alcohol and substances as they can increase stress.
If you have the habit of being a “yes” person, this may be the season for you to say no, or delegate some of the responsibilities. Overextending yourself will lead to feeling overwhelmed and being disappointed or frustrated. You do not have to be the one who does it all, and asking for assistance can be refreshing and rewarding. And remember, the holidays do not have to be perfect.
Sadness and/or anxiety may be present this year if you are dealing with the loss of a loved one, worried about finances and gift giving, because you will be alone, or are faced with being with too many people.
“When we think of the holidays, spending time with family comes to mind. However, this can increase anxiety for some. Individuals who have strained relationships with family members, or traumatic memories may find this time of year more difficult. Social expectations and the fear of being judged at large gatherings or work activities can increase anxiety as well,” Dr. Zweifel said.
Focusing on spending quality time with the people you truly care about, or by engaging in traditions most important to you can help in managing anxiety. Doing simple things for yourself is also something that can lift your mood or assist in reorganizing your priorities.
“It is important to stop and think about how we are feeling. Take time to express your feelings. If you are depressed, lonely, or isolated, seek out community or social contacts. Some in-person activities are still limited, but there are local online support groups, virtual events, and social media sites that offer support and companionship. Reach out to friends or family, and for some, helping others can be uplifting,” Dr. Zweifel noted.
Nearly two years in, the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to negatively affect social gatherings and contribute to holiday stress.
“The duration of the virus and continued fear of ourselves or families members becoming ill has led to more isolation and grief for those who have lost a loved one. Family traditions may be affected, but changing or starting new traditions can help us stay positive,” Dr. Zweifel pointed out.
“You should also be aware of how the news and social media affect your stress, and adjust the time you spend reading or hearing this information,” she added.