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Staying Well Over the Holidays


It seems like everyone is looking forward to the holiday break to have some downtime, visit with friends and family, and rejuvenate for the year ahead. But for many people, the holiday season can feel overwhelming with numerous gatherings and social interactions. For those with more serious disorders, like social anxiety and low mood or depression, it’s hard to think of the holidays as “the most wonderful time of the year.” It is important to recognize when you feel overwhelmed and develop strategies to help you cope with these feelings. Remember that it is okay to feel this way and that you are not alone.


What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder is an anxiety disorder involving discomfort around social interaction, and concern about being embarrassed and judged by others [1]. This discomfort will be experienced as fear and anxiety, and will be accompanied by autonomic arousal, including apnea, tremors, nausea, and other symptoms [2]. The discomfort that people with Social Anxiety Disorder experience can generalize to routine activities such as eating in front of others, or using a public bathroom. Social anxiety can lead to isolation, and either absence of development or stagnation of social skills, which can intensify existing social anxiety.


What is Depression?

Depression is a common and serious mood disorder [3]. Those who suffer from depression often experience persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and lose interest in activities that they previously enjoyed [3]. Depression and feelings of sadness are different. The difference between depression and sadness relates to the duration of negative feelings, other symptoms, impact on the body, and the effect it has on the individual’s ability to function in daily life [3].


Sadness is a common and normal emotion that everyone will experience at some point in their life, and can result from the loss of a job or the death of a loved one [3]. However, depression does not require a trigger [3]. When an individual is suffering from depression, they often feel sad and hopeless about everything, not just a single event [3]. Furthermore, when an individual is feeling sad they may still be able to enjoy time with friends or their favorite television show, but when an individual is dealing with depression, they often cannot enjoy activities that were pleasurable to them before [3].


How to maintain your wellness over the holidays

Since the holidays can be a stressful time for many people and may cause some to feel anxious, sad, or depressed, here are some ways you can stay mentally well during the holiday season:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings [4]. If you are feeling sad or overwhelmed, it is okay to acknowledge this and express your feelings. Cry if you are feeling upset.

  2. Don’t hesitate to reach out [4]. If you are feeling lonely, sad, anxious, or depressed, don’t be afraid to reach out to those who support you, seek support groups, or seek therapy. Remember that you are not alone and it is okay to reach out for additional support.

  3. Learn to say “no” [4]. Remember that it is alright to decline an offer such as hosting an event or going in on an expensive gift with someone else. Saying “yes” when you do not want to do something can lead to feelings of overwhelm and resentment. It is okay to say “no” and put yourself first.

  4. Be realistic [4]. It is important to accept that the holidays are often not perfect and each year families change, friends change, and people change. There are many ways to celebrate the holidays, and you can find a way that works best for you and your closest people. For example, if a loved one is sick or roads are too bad for travel, you can send packages, do a group zoom call and open presents virtually, or do a belated celebration when it is safe to do so.

  5. Remember that no one is perfect [5]. There is often pressure to give the ‘perfect’ gift or be the ‘perfect’ host. Try to avoid setting unrealistic expectations for yourself. You can even delegate tasks to others if you are feeling overwhelmed with hosting, or decide not to host altogether [5].

  6. Often, the holiday season includes an abundance of socializing [5]. Remind yourself that it is okay to leave an event early, you can decline an invitation to an event, and if you are overwhelmed at an event, you can try to arrange for transportation home or find a quiet space to breathe and call a family member or friend [5].

  7. Don’t forget your personal needs such as exercise and sleep [5]. Exercise can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and can help you sleep better [6].

If you need additional support, you can contact us at info@highpointpsychology.com with questions, or to schedule a consultation or book an appointment.


Blog post written by Kassandra Burk and reviewed by Dr. Andrea Stelnicki.

Literature review prepared by Kassandra Burk.


*The information contained in this blog post is based on a narrative review of available literature. Some studies may have been unintentionally omitted. You are advised to speak with a healthcare professional to determine if the information is appropriate to your specific circumstances.*


References

[1] NIMH.(2014) Social Anxiety Disorder. NIMH. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

[2] ADAA.(2014) Social Anxiety Disorder. ADAA. Retrieved from http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder

[3] Truschel, J. (2022). Depression Definition and DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria. Retrieved from https://www.psycom.net/depression/major-depressive-disorder/dsm-5-depression-criteria

[4] Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020). Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544

[5] CMHA. (2022). Five ways to protect your mental health this holiday. Retrieved from https://cmha.ca/five-ways-to-protect-your-mental-health-this-holiday/

[6] CMHA. (2020). Mental Health Tips for Getting Through the Holidays.Retrived from https://cmha.bc.ca/news/mental-health-tips-for-getting-through-the-holidays/

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