As the holiday season approaches, many of us begin to look forward to spending time with family and friends, and to sharing in the joys of the season. However, for people who have been exposed to a traumatic event, the holiday season may bring up negative feelings. For a good amount of us, these somewhat “positive” experiences may seem more like reminders of financial hardship, grieving the loss of the loved one, stress and anxiety and a mark of your loneliness. These unwelcome feelings of stress and depression are common during the holidays, so it is extra important to pay attention to your own well-being.
Even for people who have not been exposed to trauma, the holidays can be a stressful time. Besides the stressors of buying gifts, travel expenses and hassles, and family interactions, the short days and lack of sunlight in winter can trigger bouts of depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Findings from a 2008 pollon holiday stress conducted by the American Psychological Association, revealed that eight out of ten Americans anticipated stress during the holiday season. In the APA’s 2012 Stress in America survey it was found that 69 percent of Americans attribute their stress to money related concerns and 61 percent attributed stress to the economy.
- Acknowledge your feelings. If you are separated from your family or have recently lost of loved one, realize that it is normal to feel sadness or grief.
- Seek support. Family members and friends, social services and support groups offer vital companionship during the holiday season. Do not hesitate to ask for extra support during the holidays.
- Don’t abandon healthy habits. Continue to eat well, get plenty of sleep and exercise, and limit your drinking.
- Take a breather. Save time for yourself. Spend 15 minutes alone, without distractions, and find something that clears your mind, slows your breathing and restores your calm.
- Forget about perfection. Although the holidays may seem picture-perfect, in real life, we cannot live up to these expectations. Learn to expect and accept the imperfections and carry on with optimism.
- Try something new. You should celebrate the holidays in ways that are comfortable to you, but it is always a good habit to create new (yet still comfortable) traditions and memories. Make sure you are doing something nice for someone else. Make sure you are doing something nice for yourself.
To help people cope with grief, stress, and depression during the holiday season, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) offers the following resources for educators, families, and mental health professionals.