Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. As I write this, Thanksgiving is coming up and, this year, my mother and daughter will join my wife and me, as well as an aunt who I rarely see. Others have also been or will soon be invited so we can fill the home with loved ones and enjoy time together for at least a few hours.
Holidays can be a wonderful time to bring together the family that you don’t get to see every day. But, for some people, the holidays also bring stress, loneliness, or depression. To-do lists pile up this time of year. Broken relationships and loneliness can really stand out. There is no quick cure, nor an easy method you can use to ward off holiday depression or stress. But, whatever the reason for these problems, there are some things you can do to try to ward them off, or at least minimize their impact on your life.
We are social creatures. My first suggestion for the holidays is to find a way to be with people. If being with family isn’t possible or doesn’t feel safe, reach out to those with whom you have healthy, nurturing relationships. Get together with friends if a family setting isn’t feasible.
Another thing you can do is get involved in other peoples’ lives. Give yourself a task to care for others. Deliver food with a food delivery organization or spend time at a local food bank. Serve a meal with a church, homeless shelter, or service group. Find somewhere to serve that takes the focus off yourself and what you are feeling.
Feeling depressed does not mean all is lost. If you are suffering, it’s important to find someone to talk to. You need to have someone who can help you learn ways to cope when you start feeling depressed. This can be done with a trusted friend, or you can ask your therapist to talk more about these skills and find ones that work best for you. If you’re not currently in psychotherapy and your problems are beginning to pile up on you, you may want to seriously consider participating in psychotherapy to help you at this time.
It may sound difficult but start a gratitude journal. Challenge yourself to be thankful for something every day. You can always find something to be thankful for—even if it’s just that the water was hot in your morning shower or that you had food available for breakfast. Be thankful for anything positive in your life each day. Focus on what is good. The goal of a gratitude journal is to try and keep your mind focused on those things which bring you pleasure and which bring joy to your life.
Temper your expectations. The notion of a “perfect” holiday or family reunion can set you up for frustration and disappointment. Reality rarely meets our imagined version of perfection. Remember, the holidays can be difficult for everyone and you’re probably not the only one having a hard time.
Unfortunately, the holidays can also bring stress and anxiety. Family arguments may be a part of holiday get-togethers, the lines at the stores are longer, parking spaces are impossible to find, and people will be rude when they’re stressed.
My main recommendation to fight holiday stress and anxiety is to be realistic about what you can do. Keep things simple. Set comfortable limits. Determine how involved and accommodating your plans should be well in advance and make your limits known to others involved. I don’t add anything extra around the holidays, because I know things will be busy and others have already scheduled or requested plenty for me to do.
Shopping around the holidays can be a huge source of stress. My solution to the stress of the gift-giving game is to plan ahead. I buy my Christmas presents early so I’m not rushing around at the last minute, trying to find the perfect gift. But if you do find yourself searching for gifts right before the holidays, remind yourself that everyone else shopping at this time is doing the same thing. You’re all in the same boat, so try to show the same grace and compassion you hope they show you.
The Importance of Spirituality
Amidst all the feelings of stress and depression, remember that holidays are first and foremost a time of spirituality, a recognition of special religious events. This may be a good time to renew your spiritual beliefs and spend more time in contemplation of what the holidays are actually about. If you haven’t been to church in a while, now may be a good time to go again. It can help you understand your life, your motivations, and your relationships with others.
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