The holidays are such a joyful time for many but for others it can be an excruciating period of stress, loneliness and isolation. Whilst some are delighting in the family joining together, for others it can be a time of terrible financial burden coupled with building feelings of sadness. For those that have lost someone dear to them the holidays can exacerbate grief. The pressure to be involved in social situations can add to anxiety and depression.
Beyond Blue Clinician Dr Stephen Carbone says, ‘Stress is a fuel source for anxiety or depression. Some people might start putting too much pressure on themselves about what they should buy or do for others. Others might dread catching up with family because it may end in conflict.’
The keys to joyful happy holidays might be preparation, and being kind to yourself. So let’s beat those holiday blues.
IDENTIFY YOUR STRESSORS.
Ahead of time write a list of occasions and strategies which have worked well in the past. List the stress and relaxation techniques that help you. Try practicing meditation, yoga or deep relaxation breathing. For other techniques visit www.calmclinic.com.
PRACTICE POSITIVE THINKING
When tired or stressed it is easier to become overloaded. Thinking negatively can make stressful situations tougher so, before the holidays, begin a gratitude journal listing three things you are thankful for every day. Write a list of the things you are great at, and consider asking friends and family for their input.
KEEP A LID ON IT
Limit your alcohol consumption. At the holiday time of year it can be easy to drink to excess. Although it may seem a relief to have a drink or two, excessive drinking can lead to poor physical and mental health, inflaming tricky situations with relatives or work. Driving to visit relatives can be a great way to prevent yourself from overindulging with alcohol. Ask a friend or family member to remind you to limit your drinks. And if you really can’t control yourself in situations like the yearly work party then avoid the event all together.
Financial worries at holiday time can cause stress levels to skyrocket. Try to buy presents throughout the year, invest in toy sales or buy pre-loved items that won’t break the bank. Keep an app on your phone to track spending so you don’t go overboard. Speak to family members about making donations to charities. Instead of presents, send virtual cards, make homemade gifts or try adult Secret Santas. Give ‘redeemable offers’ to cook, clean or babysit for family. Don’t feel pressured into spending money you don’t have; set a budget and stick to it.
TAKE TIME OUT
At holiday times it is easy to over-commit whether that is buying too many presents or attending too many gatherings. It can leave you exhausted. If you are prone to anxiety and depression then added stress can be extremely unhealthy. Dr Carbone cautions, ‘Be kind to yourself when you’re planning what you will do at this time of the year. It’s OK to look after yourself and say no to some things to reduce stress and keep things enjoyable.’
If you know family gatherings may be difficult then prepare for them. Speak to family members about the difficult time you are having. Practice meditation or stress techniques. Keep up exercise, even if it’s a daily walk and some ‘me’ time.
There’s nothing like a family function to raise blood pressures and start arguments. There are a few good ways to avoid temperatures reaching boiling point and spoiling the day. Avoid inflammatory topics like religion and politics. Try a swim in the pool or a game of backyard cricket to break up the day. Practice calm responses and redirecting the conversation to safe, happier topics. Mirroring may be a useful technique; rephrase what the person says back to them in a calm voice. Try a distraction or a little humour. If all else fails and you can feel things getting heated then move on and speak to someone else.
Loneliness can be overwhelming during the holidays. Do your best to make arrangements ahead of time. Don’t be ashamed to tell to close friends this is a hard time of year that makes you feel extra lonely. Reach out to friends to see if you can join their celebrations. If you don’t have family nearby, volunteer at a charity, hospital or homeless shelter. Helping others in real need can often provide a much-needed purpose and make us grateful for what we have. Try contacting the Salvation Army at salvationarmy.org or volunteer.com.au for volunteering opportunities in your area.
TAKE CARE OF OTHERS
Remember that many people find this time of year hard. It may be you are not the only family member struggling. Keep an eye out for red flags for anxiety and depression such as isolation and withdrawing, excessive drinking or gambling and a low mood. Instead of asking that person to ‘cheer up’ ask them how they are, if they want to talk and if there is anything you can do to help.
CALL FOR HELP
Reach out if life becomes too overwhelming at holiday time. Find out if GP services are working. Check out mental health support services either on the phone or online such as Beyond Blue or Lifeline.
For help contact:
Beyond Blue Crisis line 24/7 on 1300 22 4636 or visit www.beyondblue.org.au.
Lifeline 24hr crisis counselling and suicide prevention on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au
Article written by Lisa Brookman, a Freelance Writer who works in Special Education and has a passion for child literacy. She loves theatre, yoga, reading and Science Fiction.