Managing holiday stress and holiday blues



By Greg Gibson

      Prairie Mountain Health


In the film Meet Me in St. Louis Judy Garland sang the line, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light. From now on our troubles will be out of sight.” Unfortunately, many people struggle with heavy hearts and numerous stressors over the holidays.


The term “holiday stress” reflects increased symptoms of anxiety, impatience, fatigue and depressed mood that many people experience over the holiday season. A number of factors tend to contribute to holiday stress, including financial concerns, tight schedules and heavy demands, loss of loved ones, isolation and unrealistic expectations. And when stress is at its peak, it can be very hard to stop and regroup. Stress cannot always be prevented; however, the following tips can be helpful to manage stressors during the holiday season.


• Be aware of your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or if you are away from loved ones, realize that it is normal to feel sadness and grief. It is also important to express your feelings. Do not try to force yourself to be happy just because it is the holiday season.


• Have realistic expectations. Too many people expect that the holidays need to be “perfect.” There is no such thing as perfection and having those expectations will only add to the stress of the season. An asymmetrical tree or an over-cooked turkey will not ruin your holiday; rather, it will create a family memory. Perennial movie favourites, such as A Christmas Story or A Charlie Brown Christmas are reminders of the endearing qualities of these imperfections. 


• Stay within your budget. Before you shop for gifts and food, decide how much money you can afford to spend, then stick to your budget. Don't try to buy happiness with a mountain of gifts. Some alternatives include giving homemade gifts and starting a family gift exchange. If your children’s wish list exceeds your budget, have a talk with them about reasonable expectations and remind them that holidays are not about expensive gifts.


• Manage your time and set boundaries. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you cannot participate in every project or activity. Set priorities and let go of impossible goals. Don't spend all of your time planning activities for your family. You might end up feeling drained and unappreciated. Take the time you need to finish tasks that are important to you. Don't try to complete everything at once and ask others to help you complete chores. 


• Keep healthy and take time for yourself. All too often, when people feel stressed-out and overwhelmed, they forget about their self-care. Also, the holiday season is ripe with opportunities to overindulge. Make sure that you are eating regularly and healthily, that you are getting a decent night’s sleep and that you are getting enough physical activity into your day. This can be difficult when the weather turns cold. Finally, pace yourself. Give yourself opportunities to rest and replenish. By slowing down, you will have more energy to accomplish your goals.


• Do something for others. By volunteering or assisting others we can get out of our experience for awhile. Helping out at a food bank or a shelter can also provide us with some perspective in terms of our worries and concerns.


• Stay connected and seek support. When we feel sad or overburdened, we often isolate or avoid others that can add to our burden. Ensure that you are connected with others, and seek support if needed. Getting things out in the open can help you manage your feelings and find solutions for your stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consider seeing a professional such as a mental health counsellor to help you manage your holiday stress. In Brandon and surrounding Westman area, the 24-hour crisis line number is 204-725-4411, or you can call toll-free at 1-888-379-7699.