As the never-ending commercials of holiday deals encroach on us from all sides – television, social media, internet – it can trigger panic and anxiety for many.
The holidays can incite different feelings for many people. These feelings and emotions can range from joy and nostalgia to downright fear and avoidance.
According to mental health professional, Kate Grogan, LMFT, the holidays can be a very triggering time.
“So often, the holidays are portrayed as a time to celebrate, as we see and hear several stories of families coming together and having the picture perfect holiday,” says Los Angeles-based therapist Kate Grogan, LMFT.
“But what isn’t talked about enough is how these messages can impact those around us; from the mom who struggles with anxiety and the pressure to create the perfect Christmas, to the sister who suffers from depression and can’t get out of bed to buy gifts, to the friend who just doesn’t show up because they feel like it’s just too much.
All of these and more are just examples of how anxiety and depression can arise around the holidays and how important it is to open a dialogue and create a culture of acceptance and support.”
This could be due to past memories of the holidays and the many expectations thrust upon us. According to the University Health News Daily, one of the biggest causes of depression around the holidays is unrealistic expectations.
There is an immense pressure for everything to look “picture perfect” for a family and this can cause already unhealthy family structures to crumble.
Not to mention, the financial strain for many families who are unable to live up to those said expectations.
For those struggling with depression or anxiety, this pressure can intensify mental health symptoms immensely.
My hope is provide practical tools to help manage anxiety and depression triggers around the holiday season.
1. Limit Your Social Media Exposure
Social media can be a very triggering place during the holidays. Be kind to yourself and make sure that you actively limit your browsing time.
This could be as simple as setting a timer on your phone for 15 minutes so that your browsing doesn’t overcome you.
As a therapist, I have heard many stories where Instagram influencers spend hours curating the perfect content or seemingly “happy” families getting into vicious fights mere minutes after they posted a photo.
When on social media we commonly see many photos of happy families, several presents under a tree, or extravagant winter vacations.
This can cause us to compare our current situation which often robs us of our contentment and happiness.
Some experts recommend tuning into your emotions before you open up the social media apps. If you are already feeling stressed or anxious, be realistic with how social media could affect your mood.
2. Keep Track of Your Spending
Buying presents can be a daunting task and pretty taxing on your wallet. US News Report recommends setting a per person budget before you start buying gifts for everyone on your list.
Another money-saving technique is to swap out store-bought gifts for quality time opportunities.
This could look like making infused-batch liquors or gift boxes of cookies with your family and friends.
Be realistic with your financial situation and also think about how it will affect your cash flow going into the new year.
Nobody wants a hefty credit card bill in January. Check all your credit card and account balances as well as your credit score.
It’s good to know where you stand financially before you plan out purchases.
3. Set Firm Boundaries
If just thinking about spending time with your family sends you into a downward anxious spiral, then it’s necessary to set some boundaries.
A good strategy is to honestly ask yourself how long you can spend with family or friends before your mental health starts to be affected.
Keep in mind that this could be a wide range – from 2 hours to 1 whole week.
If your limit is 2 hours, plan it around a holiday dinner or event where you can maximize your time with them and then know that there is an end time.
I suggest this in order to try and get the best of both worlds, time with your family and your sanity.
You may get push back from your loved ones on this, but remember, prioritizing your mental health should be first.
It’s also helpful to have some key phrases memorized in order to set boundaries with your family. Some examples include:
- “I can’t make it to your holiday party, however I am grateful for your invitation!”
- “Hi Mom, I’ve got Christmas dinner covered. Thank you for offering, and I will let you know if I need any help.”
- “Instead of talking about my dating life, I’d love to update you on what’s going on at work.”
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help
It takes strength and vulnerability to ask for help; don’t be afraid to utilize your resources.
If you are currently seeing a therapist, now is the time to schedule a session. If you have never been to therapy before but have considered it, then now could be a good time to start.
Scheduling a session before or after the holidays can help you either prepare or debrief. If you find yourself having thoughts about hurting yourself, there’s a national suicide prevention hotline with round-the-clock counselors who are happy to listen.
If therapy isn’t your thing, identity a trusted friend who you can confide in. Have check-ins with them throughout the holiday season and work on coming up with a self-care plan.
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5. Use Mindfulness Techniques
Have you ever heard the term “energy vampire”? Or felt that you are completely drained from spending time with your family even if you have a healthy relationship with them? Depletions of energy are very common during the holidays and can leave one feeling emotionally exhausted.
Whether you have a mental health concern or not, it is important to schedule time for yourself to decompress and restore your energy. A simple five or seven minute mindfulness meditation can work wonders.
If you have trouble clearing your mind of anxious thoughts, try a guided meditation where a narrator describes a serene landscape such as a mountainside or the beach.
Another tactic when you are with others is to envision that you have an invisible shield of white light around you. So when your second cousin asks why you’re still single or an aggressive shopper gives you a dirty look, you can envision this shield protecting you.
6. Acknowledge Traditions Both Old & New
For many, the holidays can amplify the loss of loved ones. Often times there are triggers on big anniversaries (such a holidays) where it can be even more painful to reflect on the death of family members.
It can be a painful reminder that they are no longer with us, that a tradition has been abandoned, or that their good spirit is absent from the festivities. Take the time to acknowledge your loss and talk about specific memories with them.
This is an excellent time to honor their memory and develop traditions to remember them by. This serves two functions: keeping their memory alive and continuing to process your feelings about their death.
If there’s an ornament that was their favorite, make sure you hang it on the tree. If your grandmother had a traditional latke recipe, honor her memory by making them.
Often times with anxiety and depression, it can feel like many things are out of our control. By developing a tradition or keeping certain traditions alive, it can give us a sense of control.