(by Christine Tam , ctvbc.ca)
For many, the holiday season is the most stressful time of year. Anxiety over gift shopping, social events and even the weather can cause feelings of depression.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Joti Samra says there are a number of factors that contribute to holiday induced depression. Often the combination of these factors can cause people to feel overwhelmed with stress. Here are some expert tips on how to beat the holiday blues.
Shorter days, colder weather
Shorter days equals less light, which can cause low energy and bad moods. If moods are low, people are more vulnerable to feel bad about other things.
The Canadian Mental Health Association says that between two and three per cent of the general population may have seasonal affective disorder, a condition that causes depression during the winter.
“Seasonal affective disorder is a bonafide clinical condition caused by shorter days and lack of sunlight. In addition, about 10 per cent of the population will experience mild winter blues symptoms,” Samra said.
Cold weather also means that people aren’t engaging in as many activities such as walking, getting out of the house and socializing. When combined with eating holiday goodies, consuming more carbs and drinking more alcohol, people can start to feel unhealthy and depressed.
Sticking to a regular sleeping and exercise routine can help. Taking vitamin D supplements can make up for the lack of sunlight and contribute to combating the winter blues.
Being in the tail end of a recession combined with high family demands when it comes to gift giving is very stressful, especially for young parents.
“There is a draw for families to ‘keep up with the Jones’ and parents don’t want their kids to feel different,” Samra said. “This is a real shift in the last 10 years. There’s also been a huge explosion in technological toys and these can get very expensive.”
Samra advises that families speak openly about creating a budget and sticking to it. There are also alternative ways to give.
“Creating different traditions such as gift draws or sponsoring a family in need can be one way to save,” Samra said.
Managing social expectations
There is a perception and expectation that the holidays should be a happy, perfect occasion. Samra wants to remind people that no family is perfect and having realistic expectations can help to reduce the social anxiety that comes along with strained family dynamics.
“Don’t try to hash out family issues that have been going on for years at Christmas dinner. Be mindful of trigger topics that cause arguments and stay away from them,” she said.
The increase in holiday social events can also cause people to feel overwhelmed.
“Don’t say yes to everything,” Samra advises. “During the holidays everything gets turned upside down in terms of food, sleep and alcohol consumption. Keep an eye on that. If you’re not working make sure you get decent sleep and watch how much alcohol you consume at holiday events. Alcohol is a depressant.”
If all else fails, Samra suggests getting out of town if possible.
“It can be one of the best ways to beat holiday stress and depression. People are often surprised at how much a vacation can help,” she said.
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