For many of us, the peace and joy portrayed in Hallmark Channel Christmas movies is the opposite of what we experience this time of year. Anxiety about money, stress over high expectations, sadness about life changes, and dread of family conflict are common storylines in the holiday reality shows of our lives.
Although we may not be able to transform the next few weeks into a fairy-tale ending, there are ways we can brighten up the season. First, we need to identify the causes of our holiday blues. What specifically makes us feel anxious or sad, guilty or angry?
Here are five common triggers of holiday anxiety and depression, followed by several strategies we can implement to create simpler, happier holidays.
Stress about money. This time of year, we may be tempted to spend more than we have. Advertisers do their best to convince us that we and our loved ones need shiny new toys to be happy. But are these really worth the anxiety of overextending ourselves financially?
To find more peace in this area, we can reject the over-commercialization of the season and simplify our gift-giving. We can suggest gift exchanges where each person draws one name in advance, or where each present is homemade. New low-cost traditions such as a potluck meal followed by a board game can emphasize togetherness.
Stress about time. Holiday parties, shopping, working overtime, volunteering, and decorating stuff our schedule to overflowing. We may have high expectations for ourselves or worry that we will disappoint others’ expectations of us.
To discover more joy, we can whittle our to-do list down to the truly essential items - the ones that define Christmas for us and our loved ones. Once we embrace these, everything else becomes optional.
Fatigue. Extra seasonal activities are bound to tire us physically and mentally. To stay strong and healthy, we should keep our sleep schedule consistent, avoid overeating and binge drinking, and prioritize exercise. Exercising lifts our mood, keeps us strong, and improves sleep.
Sadness about life changes. During the holidays, we may miss the way life used to be. A loved one’s death, a major life change, or distance from someone we care about can all trigger complicated emotions of sadness, grief, and even anger.
Grieving our losses is therapeutic. We should reach out to friends or find a support group to help us process these changes. By trying new holiday activities, we can avoid unwanted reminders of the past and forge a new path forward.
Anxiety over family conflict. Sometimes we may have to literally “air out” the family by taking them outside: people are less likely to raise their voices and argue in public places. If we anticipate difficult topics, we can rehearse neutral responses like, “Let’s talk about that another time” and “I can see how you would feel that way.”
With a little self-reflection and planning, we can create more moments of peace and joy this holiday season. If we can extend this kindness to others who are feeling anxious and sad, then we may just enjoy a real-life Hallmark ending after all.