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Anxiety, Stress & Depression: Navigating the Holidays

Anxiety, Stress & Depression: Navigating the Holidays

It's fall aiming into winter here in Oswego, Aurora, Plainfield and Naperville (IL), and right along with it, the changes reveal their familiar visual cues: the leaves, the rain, the snow, the ambient necklaces of twinkling lights.

In many houses, the smell of November's pumpkin pie will segue into the scent of hot cocoa and peppermint in late December. The sounds of seasonal change might first be a parade and football games on TV, soon to be followed by holiday movies and carols.

In the midst of these markings, there is us: our families, our friends and ourselves. If we believe prevailing cultural notions, the holidays are times of human connection and warmth – memory-making moments in which we can gather to feel and express our thanks and joy for being alive with the people around us.

Such blessings may indeed be true for some. For others, however, the holidays might shine high-beam spotlights on what might be challenging or "wrong" about their lives or those of others close to them. This can then trigger anxiety, sadness and stress made more pronounced because of the perceived expectations of what the season should be.

Whether a situation involves others or only ourselves, with a little awareness and planning we can enjoy what is wonderful about the holidays while giving our mental health some comfort as well.

Anxiety, Stress & Depression: Merriment vs. Mental Health

In 2020, holiday-related anxiety, stress and depression rose sharply because of the pandemic. It then dropped but remained notable in 2021 as we recovered from it. One survey on the holidays in the U.S. in 2021 reported that:

49% reported an increase in anxiety (down from 60% in 2020)
41% felt an increase in depression (down from 52%)
64% felt more financial stress (consistent YoY)

Overall, 40% of Americans in the survey felt that their mental health was impacted negatively by the holidays. This made 38% of them consider seeking a mental health professional to talk to. Another 17% were interested in support but didn't feel they could afford it at the time. Ten percent also reported already seeing a therapist regularly.

Just over a quarter (26%) of U.S. respondents indicated they wished the holidays were canceled because of its consequent stress – better than the 56% who felt that way in 2020 but still enough to warrant attention.

Anxiety, Stress & Depression: What Brings on the Blues?

The holiday blues in Oswego, Aurora, Plainfield and Naperville can stem from a number of factors, such as:

  • inflation & bills, including for food
  • shopping
  • pre-existing mental health issues
  • difficult family dynamics
  • seasonal affective disorder
  • a recent loss
  • the anniversary of a lost loved one
  • emotional & financial pressure from family and friends

Social media can further add to anxiety, stress and depression, particularly among those who might be feeling lonely or isolated during the holidays. Time spent scrolling through apparently happy posts, photos and videos on Facebook, Tik Tok and Instagram can elicit feelings of shame, envy, exclusion and upward comparison. This in turn can challenge struggling self-esteem even more.

Anxiety, Stress & Depression: Coping with Holiday Blues for the Worse

When we're dealing with anxiety, stress or depression, we might try to manage our emotional pain ourselves with behaviors that are ultimately unhelpful distractions at best, such as increasing screen time. At their worst, some of these behaviors, such as substance abuse, may actively harm us. There are healthier, more nurturing ways we can care for ourselves (and therefore our families).

Anxiety, Stress & Depression: Coping with Holiday Blues for the Better

With the holidays often focused on serving and gifting others, it can be easy to forget our own need to slow down and recharge. We can keep our batteries properly powered by:

setting – and adhering to – realistic expectations. We don't have to host the perfect party, have the best outdoor display and make every gift given impeccable. We can approach the holidays with an honest, earnest effort to share and to be present while receiving with grace and gratitude what others choose to give us.

identifying triggers. Many of us can be vulnerable to details that set off inner alarms. Such triggers might be people, places, songs or symbols that we relate with negative thoughts or events. By increasing awareness of triggers and consciously identifying emotions and unmet needs associated with them, we can help prevent downward spirals. Sometimes we can plan our holidays to limit or avoid certain triggers as well.

practicing thoughtful self-care. Anxiety, stress and depression creep in when our inner charge burns out. Meaningful self-care can simply include getting enough sleep, maintaining a balanced diet and exercising even moderately. We can also pause to read a book, take a bath, play an instrument or call someone just to say hello.

take a break from social media. Marketers and algorithm writers would love for us to keep staring at their apps even with Santa in the room, but we know better: The apps are made for advertising and constant engagement, not for mental health. We can help ourselves by setting down our mobile devices even if for a certain time each day. We won't miss anything we can't find out later, and the full press on our attention will ease.

reaching out for support when we need it. These days, many of us are aware of fleeting mental health when we're immersed in expectations, perfectionism and unceasing stimuli. Sometimes the best thing we can do is just step back, be honest with ourselves and reach out to someone we know is there for us – someone who will listen with empathy and without judgment. That person might be a family member, a friend or one of the professionals at Empowered Life Therapy. It's okay to not feel okay sometimes, and bringing that truth to the right person really can help you get through.

Anxiety, Stress & Depression: Curiosity over Concern

We can enjoy the holidays more when we engage them with curiosity instead of a mindset focused on judgment, criticism or perfectionism.

If we arrive at a Thanksgiving dinner already prepared to defend against Uncle Jack's political views, that is usually what we'll find ourselves doing. If we brace ourselves for cousin Amber's intrusive questions and Aunt Jenna's annual dive into the spiced-wine crockpot, we've already entered the room of their reality instead of simply observing it.

It is possible to be in a stressful situation, but not of it. We can see those around us as people much like us, working their own ways through life with a map that only they can use and adjust. In this way, we can appreciate them by equally understanding ourselves.

As we meet with family and friends this season, we can observe with love, kindness, patience and even a little humor how the human story plays out around us in pursuing the peace that is possible for each of us.

Support for Holiday Anxiety, Stress & Depression: Contact Us Today

If you live in Oswego, Aurora, Plainfield or Naperville (IL) and you find yourself struggling with increased anxiety, stress or depression during the holidays, Empowered Life Therapy offers you a compassionate, confidential, non-judgmental space to explore your feelings and deepen your understanding of what you feel and how you can heal and grow in your own time. To speak with one of our caring professionals, contact us today at (630) 842-6585.

We're here to help!
We're a no-judgment zone, so feel free to come to us with any questions or concerns.