Special to The Dallas Examiner
‘Tis that most wonderful time of the year – the season of holly, mistletoe and holiday music, shopping for gifts and gathering with friends and family. But not everyone feels the joy.
For some, the holidays are distressing or stressful, a dark time of year clouded by feelings of loneliness, loss, depression or anxiety.
One of the most difficult to deal with during the holidays is the death of a loved one.
“I tell my patients that you can’t rush the healing process,” said Flor Leal, PhD, Palliative Care psychologist at Parkland. “Grief doesn’t stop for holidays, and is often a reminder of their loss. Accepting the emotion, experiencing it and talking about it can be healing.”
In addition to emotional distress, the ‘holiday blues’ can cause physical symptoms, including headaches, insomnia and intestinal problems, according to Rebecca Corona, PhD, lead psychologist at Parkland Health & Hospital System.
“There are many reasons for depression and stress during the holidays,” Dr. Corona said. “Financial pressure, particularly for households with children, is a leading source of stress. For people without close family or those who have lost a loved one or are alone, the holidays can trigger grief and loneliness. It’s also very common to just feel overwhelmed, with way too much to do.”
Nearly half of all Americans report that stress has a negative impact on their lives, according to the American Psychological Association. A 2011 study by the APA found that 75 percent of Americans report money as a significant source of stress.
“The pressure to spend too much at this time of year is intense, so it’s important for us to talk to our children and family to set realistic expectations,” Corona advised. “For children, this can be used as an opportunity to teach them about the value of money and spending responsibly.”
Coping with negative feelings during the holidays can be painful, but there are things you can do to feel more relaxed and positive, the psychologist stated.
“For example, finding ways to manage different personalities at holiday gatherings can be another challenge if old tensions and feuds reignite,” she added.
Following are some tips for relieving stress and making your holidays healthier and happier:
- Find meaning and purpose in the season by reaching out to help others. Do volunteer work or help a neighbor in need.
- Seek emotional support if you feel isolated. Talk to a professional counselor, or find help through social services, religious or community support systems.
- Focus on family experiences rather than things. Start a new tradition or revive an old one from your childhood.
- Keep your cool, especially when someone gets on your nerves. Take a walk if you need a break from irritating relatives. Try to accept people as they are and set aside grievances.
- Feeling anxious? Listen to your favorite music. Research shows it can relax muscle tension and increase blood flow, helping to calm you down.
- Exercise is also a great stress-reliever. Studies have found that your mood can be lifted for up to 12 hours after a good workout.
- Acknowledge your feelings. It’s normal to feel sad if you’re missing a loved one. It’s okay to express your sadness to a friend or counselor.
- Stick to your budget. Overspending will only make you feel bluer. Set up a family tradition of drawing names for gift giving rather than buying for everyone or donate to a favorite charity to help control expenses.
- Plan ahead to eliminate last-minute frenzy. Make shopping lists, set aside time for cooking and cleaning. Ask your family to help.
- Prioritize your health. Eat holiday treats in moderation and avoid over-indulging in alcohol.
- Use techniques like meditation, breathing or muscle relaxation to alleviate stress and anxiety.