Every year about this time, I realize that the holiday season is upon us. What brings upon this realization? The changing of the seasons, the leaves start to change colors, getting ready to rake the leaves, taking out my fall and winter clothing, less daylight, and of course, trying to figure out where, when, and how to spend the holidays (various Jewish holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s).
In the coming weeks and months, we will soon be bombarded with images and sounds of the happiness and joy that is associated with the approaching holidays. It seems like it will be everywhere, from our televisions, to the radio, in-stores, decorations on or in friends’ and family homes, etc.
However, what many of us feel is mixed emotions. On the one hand, we are excited to be able to spend time with friends and family and, for some of us have a much needed break from work. However, we are also beginning to feel apprehension, nervousness, and anxiety. Where are we going to spend the holidays this year? How am I going to be able to afford all the gifts needed? Do I really have to go the holiday party at work? In addition, the coming of the holiday season can also be a reminder of past seasons, people and events. It is difficult to get excited about an upcoming holiday when it might be the first one without a family member who was lost in the previous year, or your child who might be away for her first holiday.
The truth is that the holiday season can bring about a wide range of emotions, from relaxation and enjoyment, to depression, stress and anxiety. We enjoy spending time with friends and family, watching TV, cooking, eating, working on special projects, traveling, praying, to just name a few. On the other hand, this throws our “normal” schedules off and overwhelms the senses, resulting in increased anxiety, depression, stress, and unrealistic expectations, reminding me of that old adage, “too much of a good thing” sometimes can be hard to handle. Also, if you are not well prepared, the financial strain and pressure can be anxiety provoking.
If you find yourself sleeping too much or not enough, isolating yourself from friends and family, arguing with people, gaining or losing weight in excess, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol and/or drugs, you may be experiencing symptoms of the “Holiday Blues”. Oddly enough, many of these symptoms often go away (except for the few extra pounds) sometime after the holiday season has ended.
If you find yourself having to deal with any or all of these things, don’t worry (easier said than done, I know). Try a few of these tips to see if you can alleviate some of the depression and/or anxiety:
- If you find yourself tossing and turning during the night or waking up tired in the morning, try to not eat or drink alcohol immediately before bedtime (generally, try to not eat or consume alcohol at least two to four hours before bedtime).
- Even though you may not have to work the next day, try going to bed and waking up at your normal times. If you find yourself tossing and turning, don’t stay in bed. If you can’t fall asleep in 10-15 minutes, get up and do something else until you find yourself getting tired. In addition, try not to read, watch TV or work while in bed. The idea is that you want to train your body (and mind) that the bed is for sleeping.
- If you find you are sleeping too much, this may be a sign that you are trying to escape what is happening when you are awake. If this is true, you might want to schedule time in your day for something that you want to do. This may sound selfish, but you need to do this to take care of yourself. I’m not saying you should schedule long periods of time away from everyone, but even a small amount of time for yourself to read, go for a walk (or to the gym), listen to your favorite music, etc., may allow you to feel as if you are in more control.
Remember, during this holiday season it is very important that you take care of yourself. Don’t overdo it at the dinner table or drink too much. Going for a walk, write things down (a to do list or any thoughts and feelings). These are great ways to keep yourself on an even keel. Deep, relaxing breaths are a great way to ground yourself. The oxygen running through your system will help relax you.
If you are like me, you may be both looking forward to, and feeling apprehensive about, the upcoming holiday season. Being mindful of your thoughts, feelings and needs, this holiday season may be the most relaxing and enjoyable one yet.
If you find you are feeling more depressed and anxious than is normal, feeling hopeless or are having some scary thoughts and/or behaviors that you can’t or don’t want to share with anyone and need some extra support, don’t hesitate to contact a trained professional. This person can help give you a safe place to speak about your thoughts and feelings as well as give you the extra tools that you may need to get through this holiday season. You can find a trained professional by contacting your insurance provider, local mental health agency or mental health practitioner.
Steven R. Levey is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in both Nassau and Suffolk County. To contact him, please call 516-729-6323.