The holidays seem to be associated with the highest of highs, the perfect bow on top of the conclusion to another calendar year. However, more often than not, it comes with the lowest of lows.
While it has been found United States newspapers perpetuate false correlations between suicide rates and the holidays, it is all too true many people experience higher levels of stress and anxiety during this time of year, according to Harvard Medical School.
We could blame the onset of holiday blues on Seasonal Affective Disorder, a well-known condition common in Portland, but this isn’t the whole story. The pressure to always be present and available paired with the expectation to always be happy—drunk on holiday cheer, if you will—doesn’t lay the foundation for a relaxing and stress-free holiday vacation, especially if individuals already suffer from anxiety, depression and/or a predisposition to fall into depressive moods.
Depression, anxiety and overall stress commonly increase during the holidays for a variety of reasons. Financial stresses, familial pressures, over-commitment to activities and a lack of relaxation will affect mood and overall outlook on life in the moment.
Limit indulging on excessive sweets and alcohol
It is easy to overindulge on holiday cookies, family feasts and morning mimosas during this time of year. However, don’t be fooled by the short-term burst of sugar-inspired endorphins. Unhealthy foods can cause negative mood shifts. Studies show there is an association between depression and unhealthy food choices. However, complete elimination of holiday treats is probably unrealistic for most people, so aim for moderation.
As for alcohol, a drug classified as a depressant, its connection to depression is undeniable. If individuals already suffer from anxiety or depression, alcohol is not where one should turn during times of increased stress. Start New Year’s resolutions early and eat (and drink) healthy now.
Don’t get caught up in consumerism
This year, it has been projected more than $717 billion will be spent on holiday-related purchases—4.5 percent higher than 2017—according to the National Retail Federation. This much spending is not only difficult on your wallet, but also on your state of mind. Instead of buying material things this holiday, emphasize investment in activities and experiences with loved ones. Spending time with family rather than capitalistic buying frenzies will be much more fulfilling.
It may be tempting to throw routine out the window when friends and family are in town and schedules are made busier by holiday celebrations. However, do your best to avoid pressing pause on healthy, everyday routines like exercise, morning habits and hobbies. What you spend your time doing will directly translate into your mood, which affects how you experience the world around you. Feeling productive and maintaining the comfort of consistency will naturally curb anxiety and depressive mood swings, according to Harvard Medical School.
Be nice to yourself
Family can be stressful. Whether it is impressing picky in-laws, navigating sticky political conversations or hosting large social dinner parties, stress and anxiety are sure to come up, especially for those of us who are introverted. Don’t be afraid to carve out an entire day to yourself amongst all the holiday chaos or leave social gatherings a little early.
Also, it is important to know your limits when it comes to discussing alternative political and social views and to avoid situations where you may be uncomfortable or feel attacked.
It seems almost inappropriate to emphasize volunteering around the holidays because everyone should be helping those who need it year-round. If you need more convincing, consider that volunteering can have both mental and physical health benefits, like lower blood pressure and decreased depression according to Harvard Medical School.
Don’t forget about you
If you do fall into the holiday blues, it’s okay. Do your best to lift yourself out of dark places and ask for help if you need it. If you suffer from anxiety, depression and/or other mental health conditions, be mindful of resources and support in your area and trusted people in your life you can turn to during hard times.