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  • Writer's pictureDr Heather Dyson

Navigating the Holiday Season: Five Strategies for Managing Anxiety and Depression During Christmas


The holiday season, with its festive decorations and joyful celebrations, is often considered a time of happiness and togetherness. However, for many individuals, Christmas can be a challenging period marked by increased symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. The pressure to be merry and engage in social activities may exacerbate existing mental health issues. In this blog, we'll explore five evidence-based strategies to help manage anxiety and depression during the Christmas season, providing practical tips to promote mental well-being.


1. Mindful Awareness and Relaxation Techniques

One effective way to manage anxiety and depression during the holidays is to incorporate mindfulness and relaxation techniques into daily routines. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment, helping individuals become more aware of their thoughts and feelings. Here are some practices that can be particularly beneficial:

  • Deep Breathing Exercises: Engage in deep, diaphragmatic breathing to activate the body's relaxation response. Practice inhaling deeply through the nose, holding the breath briefly, and exhaling slowly through the mouth.

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): Systematically tense and then relax different muscle groups, starting from your toes and working your way up to the head. This can help release physical tension and promote a sense of calm.

  • Guided Imagery: Visualise a peaceful and serene place, engaging your senses to create a mental escape. Guided imagery can be particularly helpful in reducing stress and creating a mental space for relaxation.

  • Mindful Meditation: Set aside a few minutes each day for mindfulness meditation. Focus on your breath, allowing thoughts to come and go without judgment. Mindful meditation can enhance self-awareness and reduce the impact of negative thinking patterns.

By incorporating these practices into your daily routine, you can develop a heightened sense of self-awareness and better cope with the stressors that may arise during the Christmas season.


2. Establish Realistic Expectations

One of the major sources of anxiety during the holidays is the pressure to meet unrealistic expectations. From perfect gift-giving to creating the ideal festive atmosphere, the desire to meet societal or personal standards can be overwhelming. Setting realistic expectations can be helpful for managing symptoms of anxiety and depression during Christmas, as it removes some of the perceived pressure from the event. Consider the following:

  • Gift Giving: Focus on the thought and sentiment behind the gifts rather than their monetary value. Consider homemade gifts or spending quality time with loved ones as alternative expressions of affection.

  • Social Engagements: It's okay to decline invitations or limit the time spent at gatherings if it feels overwhelming. Prioritise self-care and ensure that the social interactions you choose to take part in are personally enjoyable rather than stress-inducing.

  • Financial Planning: Create a budget for holiday expenses to avoid financial strain. Recognise that the value of the holidays is not determined by the amount of money spent.

By aligning expectations with reality, individuals can alleviate the pressure to conform to societal norms and reduce the risk of disappointment or feelings of inadequacy.


3. Maintain Social Connections

While the holiday season can be challenging, maintaining social connections is beneficial for mental well-being. Loneliness and isolation can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. Here are some strategies for staying connected with others:

  • Reach Out: Initiate contact with friends or family members, even if it's a brief phone call or a text message. Sharing thoughts and feelings can provide emotional support.

  • Volunteer: Engage in community service or volunteer work. Helping others can foster a sense of purpose and connection, providing a positive impact on mental health.

  • Join Supportive Groups: Consider participating in support groups or activities that align with your interests. Connecting with like-minded individuals can create a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation.

  • Set Boundaries: Communicate openly with loved ones about your needs during the holidays. Establishing boundaries can help manage social interactions and prevent overwhelming situations.

Maintaining social connections fosters a support system, providing emotional reinforcement during times of stress. By nurturing relationships and seeking support, individuals may be better able to navigate the challenges of the Christmas season more effectively.


4. Prioritise Self-Care Practices

Amid the hustle and bustle of the holidays, self-care often takes a back seat. However, prioritising self-care is important for us all, not just for those of us experiencing symptoms associated with anxiety and depression. Here are some self-care practices to incorporate into your routine:

  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity has been shown to have a positive impact on mood and mental well-being. Indeed, research has shown that gentle exercise (such as walking or yoga) is more effective at treating symptoms of depression than medication. Taking some time out to engage in activities you enjoy will have a significantly positive impact on your mood.

  • Adequate Sleep: Sleep can often be tricky for individuals experiencing anxiety and/or depression. Initial insomnia, intermittent waking, and early waking are universally recognised as symptoms of anxiety and depression. Doing your best to get as much restful sleep each night, as possible, will have a positive impact on your wellbeing. Strategies such as establishing a bedtime routine, creating a comfortable sleep environment, practicing progressive muscle relaxation, and being compassionate with ourselves can all significantly improve the quality of our sleep.

  • Healthy Eating: We are all aware of the importance of maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet. Limiting the intake of caffeine and sugar is often a good place to start. These stimulants can exacerbate an already heightened nervous system, unintentionally resulting in physiological symptoms associated with anxiety.

  • Creative Outlets: Expressing yourself through creative activities, such as art, writing, or music, can be therapeutic. Find an outlet that resonates with you and allows for self-expression.

  • Digital Detox: Take breaks from social media and technology to reduce exposure to holiday-related stressors. Set boundaries for screen time and focus on activities that bring joy.

By prioritising self-care, individuals can build resilience and better cope with the emotional challenges that may arise during the Christmas season.


5. Seek Professional Support

If you feel that you are becoming overwhelmed during the festive period, it is always OK to reach out and ask for support. Mental health professionals, including psychologists, counsellors, and psychiatrists, can offer tailored strategies and interventions to address specific concerns. Here are some considerations for seeking professional support:

  • Therapy: Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based therapy, and other evidence-based approaches can be effective in treating anxiety and depression. A therapist can provide a safe space to explore thoughts and feelings.

  • Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage symptoms of anxiety or depression. Consultation with a psychiatrist can help determine the most appropriate treatment plan.

  • Support Groups: Joining a support group, either in-person or online, can provide a sense of community and shared understanding. Connecting with others who have similar experiences can be validating and empowering.

  • Crisis Helplines: If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, it's crucial to reach out to a crisis helpline immediately. These helplines are staffed with professionals trained to address such situations and provide appropriate assistance. Crisis helplines operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This continuous availability ensures that individuals can access support whenever they need it, irrespective of the time of day or night. Callers can speak openly about their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment. Trained professionals on the other end of the line are there to listen, offer support, and provide a safe space for expression. They are equipped to assess the caller's situation, offering guidance and support tailored to their specific needs. This may involve exploring coping strategies, discussing available resources, or providing information on local mental health services.

 

As we wrap up our exploration of strategies for managing anxiety and depression during the Christmas period, it's important to remember that each person's experience with mental health is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. The key is to be patient with oneself and to experiment with different strategies to discover what resonates best.

Remember that it's okay to ask for help and prioritise your well-being. The holiday season should be a time of joy, connection, and self-reflection. By implementing these evidence-based strategies and recognising the significance of mental health, individuals can navigate the festive season with greater resilience and a sense of empowerment.


In closing, let's reiterate the five key strategies:

  1. Mindful Awareness and Relaxation Techniques: Incorporate mindfulness and relaxation practices into your daily routine to cultivate self-awareness and reduce stress.

  2. Establish Realistic Expectations: Align your expectations with reality, focusing on meaningful connections and experiences rather than societal pressures.

  3. Maintain Social Connections: Stay connected with friends and family, seek support, and engage in activities that foster a sense of belonging.

  4. Prioritise Self-Care Practices: Take care of your physical and emotional well-being through exercise, adequate sleep, healthy eating, creative outlets, and digital detox.

  5. Seek Professional Support: If needed, reach out to mental health professionals, join support groups, or utilise crisis helplines to ensure you have the necessary support.

The journey toward mental well-being is ongoing, and it's useful to view these strategies as tools in your mental health toolkit. Embrace the holiday season with a sense of self-compassion, knowing that taking steps to care for your mental health is a valuable and courageous endeavour.


In the spirit of the season, may your holidays be filled with moments of joy, connection, and self-discovery. Remember that you are not alone, and there is support available for those who seek it. Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year filled with peace and well-being.


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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