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Family Living Focus: Prevent holiday stress and depression

When stress is at its peak, it is hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if you know the holidays have taken an emotional toll in previous years. Living during the challenging times of the pandemic could make this holiday season even more special.

Tips you can try to head off holiday stress and depression:

1. Acknowledge your feelings. If a loved one has recently died or you are not able to be with your loved ones, realize that it is normal to feel sadness or grief. It is okay now and then to take time just to cry or express your feelings. You cannot force yourself to be happy just because it is the holiday season.

2. Seek support. If you feel isolated or down, seek out family members and friends, or community, religious or social services. They can offer support and companionship. Consider volunteering while following social distancing guidelines at a community or religious function. Getting involved and helping others can lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. Also, enlist support for organizing your holiday gathering with your immediate family who live with you, as well as with meal preparation and cleanup. You do not have to go it alone. Do not be a martyr.

3. Be realistic. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Hold on to those you can and want to but accept that you may have to let go of others. For example, if your adult children and grandchildren can’t all gather at your house as usual due to the pandemic, find new ways to celebrate together from afar, such as sharing pictures, e-mails, phone calls, FaceTime or virtual gatherings.

4. Set differences aside. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they do not live up to all your expectations. Practice forgiveness. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. With stress and activity levels high, the holidays might not be conducive to making quality time for relationships. Be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they are feeling the effects of the pandemic, holiday stress and depression, too.

5. Stick to a budget. Before you go shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend on gifts and other items. Then be sure to stick to your budget. If you do not, you could feel anxious and tense for months afterward as you struggle to pay the bills. Do not try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.

6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with friends in a social distancing way and other activities. Plan your menus and then make one big food-shopping trip. This will help prevent a last-minute scramble to buy forgotten ingredients and you will have time to make another pie, if the first one is a flop. Expect travel delays, especially if you are flying.

7. Learn to say no. Believe it or not, people will understand if you cannot do certain projects or activities due to the pandemic. If you say yes only to what you really want to do, you will avoid feeling resentful, bitter, and overwhelmed. If it is really not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.

8. Do not abandon healthy habits. Do not let the holidays become a dietary free-for-all. Some indulgence is okay, but overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you do not go overboard on sweets, cheese, or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and schedule time for physical activity.

9. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Steal away to a quiet place, even if it is to the bathroom for a few moments of solitude. Take a walk at night and stargaze. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing, and restoring inner calm.

10. Rethink resolutions. Resolutions can set you up for failure if they are unrealistic. Do not resolve to change your whole life to make up for past excess. Instead, try to return to basic, healthy lifestyle routines. Set smaller, more specific goals with a reasonable time frame. Choose only those resolutions that help you feel valuable and that provide more than only fleeting moments of happiness.

11. Forget about perfection. Holiday TV specials are filled with happy endings but in real life, people do not usually resolve problems within an hour or two. Something always comes up. You may get stuck late at the office causing you to get behind on personal tasks, your sister may dredge up an old argument, your family member may burn the cookies, and your mother may criticize how you’re raising the kids all in the same day. Accept imperfections in yourself and in others.

12. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for several weeks, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. You may have depression.

Take back control of holiday stress and depression

Remember, one key to minimizing holiday stress and depression is knowing that the holidays can trigger stress and depression. Accept that things are not always going to go as planned. Manage stress and depression during the holidays by utilizing these twelve tips.

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Information adapted from article in MayoClinic.com newsletter.

If you would like more information on “Tips to Prevent Holiday Stress and Depression” contact Gail Gilman, Family Life Consultant, M.Ed., C.F.C.S. and Professor Emeritus University of Minnesota at waldn001@umn.edu. Be sure to watch for more Family Living Focus™ information in next week’s paper.

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