By Laura S. Picciano, DO
For many, the holiday season is a time filled with friends, family and festivities. But while the holidays can be a time for family traditions and celebrations, it can leave others feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Even the most seasoned party-goer can get weary. The holidays should be about making good memories, not about making things perfect. You can keep your physical and mental well-being on track this season by following these tips.
Keep in mind that few people experience “the perfect holiday season” like depicted in holiday cards and made-for-TV movies. The media bombards us with unrealistic expectations. Depression and anxiety are real and can be in full force this time of the year, especially for those who are dealing with chronic disease, the loss of a loved one, financial difficulties or other family issues.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with the sheer number of invitations you receive, do not feel obligated to attend every event. If you’re not up to the party, but feel obligated to go, tell your host beforehand that you need to leave early and do so.
Tight finances and the pressure to buy “the perfect gift” can also cause anxiety. Prepare a holiday budget and stick to what is affordable.
Get your exercise, and do not cut back on sleep. During this busy season, exercise often gets put by the wayside. More than ever, exercise is important. In addition to helping you wear off some of those extra calories you consumed, exercise is a proven stress-buster. Physical activity helps to bump up the production of your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Regular exercise can increase self-confidence and lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety. Exercise also can improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety.
If experiencing loss, as in divorce or death of a loved one, focus on building new traditions and keeping the old ones that can still provide you with happiness. This can be a good time to memorialize a deceased loved one. Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings with a family member or close friend. The holidays are stressful enough in good times. Remember that you are not alone in your feelings.
The Holiday Food Trap
One of the biggest stressors at the holidays is overeating. The average American adult gains one to two pounds during the holiday season. Because it is hard to adhere to a weight-loss plan during these months, you should focus on weight maintenance instead. Never go to a party on an empty stomach, and try to stay clear of where the food is being served. Focus on your company not the food. Don’t deprive yourself, but eat only the things you really love. It’s helpful to put your food on a plate to be more mindful of your portion sizes rather than just grazing. And, cut back on the empty calories of alcohol.
Seek Professional Help
Finally, remember the holidays are what you make them. If, despite your best efforts to limit stress, you still find yourself feeling persistently sad, anxious or plagued by physical complaints, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Chronic sleeplessness, irritability, feeling hopeless and the inability to face routine chores may be signs of a more serious depression. If these feelings last for a while, seek immediate help.