Friday, November 9, 2012

How to Make It Through the Holiday Season Happier and Healthier

For many women the holiday season represents an opportunity to reconnect with loved ones, a time to create pleasant, loving memories, and to make-up for the other part of the year that we may have felt we were not being a good enough mother, wife, daughter, sister, or even friend. We send holiday cards to people we may not have been in contact with for months if not years, buy expensive gifts to show our loved ones how much we care, bake cookies for our children’s teachers and our co-workers, adorn our homes in holiday regalia and spend a lot of our time entertaining family and friends. We may feel completely responsible for all the planning and execution of our families’ holiday traditions, such as making dinners, gift buying, gift wrapping, and decorating our homes. We feel responsible for our families’ happy, particularly around the holiday season when we try so hard to make our families’ experience of the holidays perfect. And asking for help, even when not during the holiday season, is difficult for many of us to do.   

     With the kind of expectations we pile upon ourselves, it is no surprise that many women experience an increase in depression, anxiety, irritability, sleeplessness, exhaustion, and changes in weight and appetite during the holiday season. Several psychological studies indicate that women struggle with stress-induced depression more than their men counterparts and women are more likely to experience depression resulting from seasonal affective disorders caused by a decrease in daylight. Furthermore, the holiday season can stir up profound feelings of grief and mourning due to sadness associated with loved ones who have died or family members who can not be with us because of divorce, family strife, or distance; for example an adult child who may have moved across the country.   

     It is important not to ignore holiday season induced depression and stress. Taking positive steps towards minimizing unnecessary holiday stress can increase your chances of having a happier and healthier holiday season.  In most cases, holiday season depression and/or holiday induced stress can be lessened by finding a healthy balance between our expectations and our realities. Below are a few tips that I hope you will find helpful for reducing holiday season induced depression and stress:

  1. Evaluate your holiday expectations.  It may be helpful to figure out which expectations are achievable and which are not. If you are working full-time and caring for young children, volunteering to cook a large holiday dinner may not be achievable, especially if you also want to enjoy it.

  1. Be present when you are with your loved ones. Put away cell phones, computers, and other distractions so that you can focus on the people that mean the most to you.

  1. Be sure to get enough sleep. Research suggests that 7-9 hours of sleep a night significantly improves our ability to regulate our mood and improves our thinking and cognitive capacities.

  1. Delegate responsibility. Try to anticipate when and what you will need help with. Ask for help in advance, so you will not be setting yourself up for being and feeling frantic and overwhelmed. For example, ask your family to help you with cooking and clean-up; these are great opportunities for connecting and spending quality time together too.

  1. Make time for exercise. Exercising for 30 minutes a day, a minimum of three days per week, has consistently been shown to improve mood, sleep, and to reduce anxiety.

How do you cope with holiday season induced depression or anxiety? Do you find you feel more “down in the dumps” or “blue” around the holidays? What do you do to help yourself feel better that may also help other women? I want to hear from you.

Wishing you all a less stressful and more enjoyable holiday season!

-Dr. Paula Durlofsky-