Clinical Psychologist

Sydney CBD

Managing Holiday Stress and Depression

With Christmas almost upon us, many of us are rushing around trying to prepare for the holidays. There is a festive energy in the air, while parties and lunches abound. Some of us relish in the hype that the holiday season brings, while others have mixed feelings and perhaps even dread it.

Competing emotional and physical demands can be stressful. Stress, depression and anxiety can put a damper on what might’ve been a time for relaxation, self care and regeneration. Thinking ahead and becoming aware of your triggers can be one way of minimising stress and negative mood states.

Feeling pressure to be happy during the festive period

For many of us, the expectation from others to be happy and engaged, when you feel neutral, tired or flat, can be stressful. Give yourself permission to be yourself. Being authentic can bring inner peace. If you feel a bit flat, well, you feel a bit flat. Too tired to try to make people laugh? Don’t. I’m not suggesting that you sit in the corner looking depressed, although if that’s how you really feel, so be it.

Let yourself be human, not perfect

Some of us get caught up trying to buy the perfect present, having a spotless house, the most appealing decorations, or the best Christmas lunch or dinner. Not surprisingly, holding such high expectations can make us feel overwhelmed and stressed. Give yourself a moment to think about what’s important to you. Try writing down a couple of things that really matter and focus on those tasks. Ask yourself ‘how important is this? Does it matter if it doesn’t get done, or if it’s not done a particular way? ‘

Coping with difficult family situations 

While family brings joy for many, for some of us, spending time with people we don’t get on with, or find emotionally difficult, can leave us feeling stressed, anxious or depressed. Some family members can bring back painful childhood memories, perhaps even trigger old traumas, while others, like the auntie who never stops talking about herself, might be harmless but emotionally taxing.

It might be helpful to think about who you’ll be spending time with and how you might manage any difficult relationships. One way to manage a difficult relationship is to spend limited time with the person, or to avoid tricky topics. You could also think about teaming up with a friend or partner and devising a plan to help each other out of uncomfortable situations. When we know that someone has our back, we not only feel more connected, but we also feel cared for. For example, you might ask your partner to politely interrupt and take you away from an uncle who you find draining.

Look after yourself

While it’s tempting to let go of all routine, keeping some structure to your day can help keep stress away and help your mood. If it’s too difficult to stick with your regular routine, develop an alternative, more manageable one. Getting plenty of rest, eating well, and ensuring you have alcohol free days can help with mood and stress levels.

Coping with separation

The holiday season can be an upsetting time for those who have recently separated. Not only because they find themselves on their own but because it brings back memories of what once was and what’s now missing. Being kind to yourself and ensuring you connect with family and friends will be important at this time.

It can be understandably difficult if we’re separated from our children at this special time. It might be helpful to negotiate plans with your ex-partner in advance so that everyone has time to come to terms with, and adjust to, the new arrangements, particularly the children.

Coping with loss

For most, Christmas is a time for family and friends. If someone we love has recently passed on, perhaps a parent, a child or even a pet, it can be a pretty painful time. We might be tempted to withdraw or drink too much but these things might make us feel sadder and maybe even depressed. Reaching out and connecting with others can be an important part of looking after yourself. However, you might also need some quiet time to remember your loved one. It may be comforting to journal your feelings and reflect on the things you shared and did together. It might be nice to do an activity you have previously shared, like revisit a spot you both enjoyed.

Being on your own can be difficult, especially if you have depression

Being alone on Christmas and New Years, when we don’t choose to be, and knowing that others are surrounded by family or friends, can be difficult and sometimes depressing. Whether it’s your first year alone, or one of many, try preparing yourself for the day. You might want to get a few movies to watch, or pick up a good book. Perhaps reconnecting with an old hobby, like drawing or painting might help, or even going away for a couple of days. Some people find volunteering their time helpful because it takes their mind off their own thoughts and connects them to others. Try treating it like it’s any other day, but if it’s really getting you down, remind yourself that you only need to get through twenty four hours.

Christmas and holiday periods can be joyful times of year but can also feel stressful for some and can be difficult for those who are already struggling with depression or anxiety. Remember, there is help. If you need to talk to someone, reach out to family, a friend or a counsellor.

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Maria Scoda is a clinical psychologist in Sydney CBD.

This post is an opinion piece and is for informational purposes only. It does not address people’s individual circumstances or needs and it is not a substitute for professional help. Please see a health care professional if you are struggling. External links have been provided for convenience. They are created and maintained by other organisations and I cannot control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of this outside information.

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