If you watch most movies about the holiday season, they will be filled with cheer and fulfillment but as with the program itself being a fantasy world, so is the expectation that all will be happiness and joy during the holidays.
Pressures of the holidays alone are often times difficult to take on the best of days, but for those who suffer from anxiety or depression it can rise from an annoyance to overwhelming. It is not an easy cycle to break, but there are ways to try and at the least reduce and help manage depression and anxiety.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, taking a few simple steps may help those experiencing difficult times to cope.
One of the greatest issues for those suffering with social anxiety disorder is the prospect of having to attend holiday gatherings. For them the very thought of entering a room crowded with people can bring on feelings of anxiety or even a full blown panic attack. Then when the event arrives, the wish to “just escape” can begin to take hold. But the reality is that by not attending these events according to the ADAA, “avoidance will only perpetuate fear”, and in the end make things worse.
The reality that those with social anxiety disorder need to realize is that feeling stressed over the holidays is more normal than abnormal.
” Although some report that the holidays lift their spirits, many people say that the holiday season makes them feel very or a bit more anxious or depressed”, the ADAA said in a recent paper on the subject.
In an effort to help those who feel “down” during the holidays, the ADAA has these suggestions.
- Reduce the expectations you place on yourself and others. The reality is that though most things may go exactly as planned, odds are some things will not and as hard as it may be, this should just be accepted. Again the only place that things always work out and go as planned are in those old holiday movies. So just try and accept the little annoyances, understanding that it is totally normal.
- For those with social anxiety there can be the feeling that everyone is focused on them, but as the ADAA paper made the point, “most people are not paying much attention to you”. Odds are that other people are concerned about how they appear, so by paying a bit of attention to them, with a compliment or other nice words, it puts them at ease and in turn can do the same for you.
- When attending a gathering try and really take a look at what you are concerned and bothered by. Is it that you are worried you will say the wrong thing or do something embarrassing? Try to identify just what it is and understand even if you make a “faux pas” you may end up feeling uncomfortable for a moment, but that is all that will happen.
- One large issue that can be a problem for those trying to deal with the holidays is the access to alcohol at many gatherings. The reality is that even though the thought of “taking the edge off” may be tempting, it is a very bad idea. Not only does alcohol affect brain chemistry, which for some can be a trigger for panic attacks, but as all of us know, imbibing a bit too much could in itself draw unflattering attention to you, which is exactly what you were hoping to avoid.
- Even when you are feeling down, just making an effort to smile and be a bit happier can help. Draw others into a conversation with you regarding their holiday plans. Ask about their family or the very in generally question of what they have been doing. You might find that a pleasant conversation will develop helping you to escape from your feeling of anxiety, if only for a bit. But one word of warning and this is an old one, but still very valid. Avoid talking about topics that can, “set people off”. So skip the small talk about politics or religion.
- Finally accept the fact that doing too much at the holidays will only make things worse. As the ADAA paper made the point, “you don’t have to feel obligated to accept every invitation, and you may want to eliminate some traditions that cause you more stress than joy”.
These few suggestions on how to help reduce the stress of the holidays are just that, a very few that just scratch the surface, but they offer a very good starting point.
The holidays are supposed to be a time of happiness and joy but for those who suffer from anxiety or depression, it can be difficult at times to find these feelings. But understand that you are not alone, most people feel pressured during the holidays and with a better understanding of ways to escape the “holiday blues”, you may find a bit more joy at this time of year.
If the symptoms of depression or anxiety become overwhelming, it is time to seek professional help.
The ADAA offers a link to the podcast, “Myths and Realities of the Holiday Blues” by Dr. Philip Muskin, Professor of Psychiatry New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and Dr. Anna Dickerman, Fellow of Psychosomatic Medicine Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University.
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