Research

Bah, Humbug? Psychology Expert on How to Cope With Holiday Stress

Holiday Stress

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 5, 2018)  'Tis the season to be merry and bright! But you may be feeling less than joyful during the "most wonderful time of the year." Do you experience stress, anxiety or even depression from November to January? If so, you're not alone.

"It's pretty common. In my clinical and personal experience, I would say most, but not all, people report increased stress around the holidays. However, only a subset of vulnerable people experiences clinical problems, such as depression and anxiety, around these times," Michelle Martel, associate professor in the Department of Psychology, said. 

From impeccable wreaths to the tree surrounded by a mountain of gifts — creating the "perfect" holiday can add to existing stressors. "Including financial strain (from buying food at Thanksgiving and gifts for Christmas). Sometimes stress from interacting with family and colleagues as well," Martel continued. "In addition, holidays often also bring up sad memories for people whose loved ones have passed away. These stressors can also increase risk for anxiety and depression."

The good news? Martel has a few tips and tricks to help you beat the bah, humbug.

Get as much sunlight as possible.

Holidays fall during winter when there is less light. Less exposure to light, and less vitamin D from sunlight, is causally linked with increased depression. You can even consider hitting the tanning bed or using sun therapy lights or lamps at home. Also, make sure you are getting enough vitamin D from food or a multivitamin.

Stay active.

Try to continue to get plenty of exercise — outside or at the gym. There are also more innovative ways, such as walking at the mall. Working out releases chemicals that help you react to situations more rationally.

Budget gift giving.

Giving gifts is associated with positive feelings. However, it’s important not to over-extend. Try to think outside the box for gifts. It’s not necessarily the number of gifts that (should) matter, but thoughtfulness. Perhaps the annual family vacation could be unveiled during the holidays? Or, you could plan a special event in lieu of additional gifts?

Plan stress-free family time.

Think quality over quantity. This may mean ordering out for dinner. You may also have to limit time spent together, whether it’s visiting both sets of parents during the holidays or hitting every party on your list, just because you’re invited doesn’t mean you have to attend.

Ask for help.

Seek out therapy, or at least social support, to process unpleasant emotions. If you anticipate having a difficult time around the holidays, find a good therapist. This site is useful. Alternatively, you can contact your insurance company for a list of covered providers. However, start early as the holidays are a busy time of year for mental health professionals. If family time is stressful or you do not have family to spend time with, make plans with friends and/or try to get away for the holidays.

"Planning ahead for addressing stress is definitely key. Sometimes the best gift you can give your family is taking care of yourself. I often recommend that people try to plan some time for themselves and build in some happy moments, even if it’s just a cup of hot chocolate."

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