For many service members, veterans, and their families, the holidays are a great time of laughter, cheer, and togetherness. However, we also know that for some of us, the holidays can be a difficult time.
We may remember family members, friends, and battle buddies who are no longer with us to celebrate the season. Although we feel the loss all year long, these feelings of sadness and loss are heightened during the holidays. This can mean an increase in depression and anxiety symptoms. If you experience these types of emotions during the holidays, please be honest with yourself and take the necessary actions to reduce stress.
To start, try your best to prevent an increase in levels of stress and depression. An article released by the Mayo Clinic recommends several tips to help prevent and reduce stress and depression during the holiday season:
1. Acknowledge your feelings.
If someone close to you has recently died or if you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to experience these emotions or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
2. Reach out.
If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious, or other social events. Community, peers, and friends can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and build relationships.
3. Be realistic.
The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like year’s past. Traditions and rituals can be changed or simplified. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if family members can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, by sharing pictures, emails, or videos. Decide which parties or celebrations you feel most comfortable to attend, but don’t feel obligated to attend them all—but be sure to connect with others during the holiday season even if you don’t attend the parties or celebrations.
4. Set aside differences.
Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. Be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
5. Stick to a budget.
Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Sticking to a budget will also prevent post-holiday anxiety and depression related to over-spending. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.
6. Plan ahead.
Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends, and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list—this will prevent additional trips to the store to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to enlist others to help with party or meal prep and cleanup.
7. Learn to say “no.”
Saying “yes” when you want to say “no” can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say “no” to something, then try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the time.
8. Don’t abandon healthy habits.
Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.
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. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing, and restoring inner calm.
10. 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 unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
By Tricia Winklosky, MS-ATR, Clinical Health and Wellness Director at Hope For The Warriors