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'Tis the Season

How To Cope With Holiday Stress and Depression

While many of us find the holidays a time of joy and celebration, others experience a completely different set of emotions. It can be a time of year rife with stress, sadness, depression and loneliness.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Psychologist Dawn Potter, PsyD, outlines the causes of this holiday depression, some of the signs you’re experiencing it, even if you don’t realize it, and how to manage these tough times.

The causes for holiday depression according to Dawn Potter are:

  • Stressful schedules. 

  • Putting pressure on yourself. 

  • Separation from loved ones.

  • Loneliness. 

  • Family dynamics.

  • Seasonal depression. 

Dr. Potter says these are four main symptoms that may signal something bigger than normal stress.

  • Feeling depressed and hopeless for more days than not.

  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy.

  • Constantly feeling anxious, nervous or on edge more days than not.

  • Trouble sleeping over an extended time.

In addition to these, Dr. Potter urges anyone experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide to contact the 24/7 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline through phone, chat or text. It is a free resource that connects people in crisis to a local counselor. If you feel you’re in immediate danger, go to the hospital or call 911 and your doctor immediately.

As daunting as this all may feel, there are ways to cope and find support and emotional stability to get you through a tough time of year.

Dr. Potter says that finding a way to acknowledge a lost loved one at your holiday get-together can be a positive experience. “Holidays can be more challenging when the loss isn’t talked about because it can make that absence seem even stronger,” she says. Sharing memories or a toast to the departed might be a bittersweet moment but one that can ultimately help make your holiday a richer experience.

Difficult relationships are tested during the holidays, especially when it comes to families, but there are ways you can prepare. “It’s okay to decline an invitation or to leave an event early,” 

“It’s okay to say no to attending an event you don’t feel comfortable with,” she adds. “You can’t make everyone happy so just do the best you can. 

“Family isn’t just about the one you’re born into, it’s also about the people you connect with. Spend time with your chosen family, the people who bring you happiness and joy.”

The holidays are time with a multitude of volunteering opportunities, notes Dr. Potter. “Doing some type of charity work or helping out in some way really helps connect with others and can do go a long way to easing that loneliness.”

She also says that cutting down on social media can help you cut down on your own stress. “It can relieve you of feeling like you have to live up to something. Remind yourself that the holidays are about connecting, quality time and sharing joy with others and not just one ‘perfect’ photo.”

Even if you take some or all of these steps, you may still experience stress, depression and anxiety. A great way to alleviate those feelings is by seeking support. “If you have access to a therapist, be sure to discuss your feelings with them, especially at this time of year,” Dr. Potter says. “If you don’t have a therapist and think it might be a good idea, you should consider reaching out, too.”

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