woman stressed out sitting in front of a holiday tree

Even though I’m still wearing flip flops on the weekends, I haven’t pulled out my winter clothes from storage, and I am just getting around to editing pictures taken during a summer vacation, Christmas decorations have been on display at local stores since Halloween.

For many, the holiday season is not met with eager anticipation but rather with dread and anxiety. Holiday hype that strongly emphasizes the joy of the season, togetherness and abundance often exacerbates feelings of isolation, loneliness, and despondency for those mourning the loss of a loved one, folks with limited resources, or people estranged or separated from family and friends.

It is normal to experience a wide range of emotions during the holiday season that are not congruent with the many images we are exposed to portraying happiness, comfort, and unity. In fact, a large majority of us may actually feel a spike in anxiety and depression. Many factors can contribute to creating an unhappy holiday, but there are some things you can do to take care of yourself.

Practice self-compassion.

Try not to judge or diminish your feelings, but rather meet where you are with friendliness, as if you were greeting a loved one.

Breathe through the pain.

Instead of contracting around the pain, try softening your body, loosening tense muscles, and breathing deeply into your belly. Imagine, if you will, breathing though your belly button. Belly breathing activates the vagus nerve, a critical player in helping us to calm down.

Listen to your own needs and practice self-care.

Whether you plan to spend time with family or be alone, listening to your own needs is vital. Perhaps even spend a moment before the holiday to identify what your needs might be and develop a strategy to help you meet them.

Engage in activities that feel meaningful to you.

Whether that means volunteering at the local homeless shelter, curling up with a good book (or five), participating in a spiritual practice, or doing absolutely nothing at all is up to you, but do take some time to identify what activities would bring you a sense of fulfillment and then go do them!

Adjust expectations to be more realistic.

Many of us get hooked into the holiday hype and may slide into fantasy-like visions of what’s to come. Take a moment to gently examine if there’s any fantasy in your expectations and think of ways to replace the fa-la-la fantasy with more reasonable objectives.

Create new traditions.

Who says your holiday traditions have to be traditional? Take a moment to come up with your own traditions by identifying the who, what, when, and where: what is important to you, who, if anyone, you would like to include, and when and where will you carry out this new tradition?

You are not alone.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 16.1 million adults in 2015 had experienced at least one major depressive episode, and 40 million American adults were affected by anxiety. It is also not uncommon for people to experience both anxiety and depression. For more information, you can visit their website or go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness website.

Give yourself the gift of support.

If the holiday season brings up pain that is too much to bear alone, please reach out for professional help. A great national resource is the Psychology Today website. You can “shop” for a therapist using many criteria, such as gender, location, specialty, and cost. FRCC students can access FREE counseling services: Go here for details at your FRCC campus. If you need assistance elsewhere, contact your primary care provider or county mental health agency.

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