For many of our family and friends, the holiday season is not the “most wonderful time of the year.” In fact, it can be just the opposite. The holidays can be a stressful and sad time. The good news? You are not alone.
Our sponsors at Mercy are here to help. We recently had the opportunity to chat with Anne Colvin, PsyD, Mercy Clinic Behavioral Health. Dr. Colvin offers some great practical tips for those that might be struggling to the find the joy during this busy time of year.
You can reach Dr. Colvin at the Mercy Clinic Behavioral Health-Lark location (1312 E. Lark Street, Springfield) or give her office a call to schedule an appointment at 417.820.3707.
What are 3-4 symptoms of someone who may be dealing with the holiday blues?
The common symptoms of “holiday blues” would be signs of stress, such as: sleep disturbance, decreased energy, worry, and perfectionism (high expectations, inflexibility, etc). Knowing your personal signs of distress are important so you can identify the red flags early, keeping a journal each year to monitor thoughts, stress and symptoms can be helpful as you plan for the holidays.
Are there ways that I could feel better on my own?
Healthy habits are made each and every day and need to be maintained, especially during stressful times. Taking time for yourself is often the first thing to go when we have a number of demands pulling us in different directions. Continue to exercise, eat regularly, make healthy food choices, and get enough sleep. We are often focused outward during the holidays, balancing the demands and focusing on the things we hope to accomplish. So, don’t forget to look inward at what your personal needs are.
Ask for help. Don’t forget to turn to your support network. I encourage people to be specific in what they need, like asking, “Could you pick up the kids for me so that I can do some shopping on my own tonight?” Then, follow up with showing them how much they mean to you, by saying, “Thank you. Picking up the kids for me helped out so much.”
Plan, organize, and control what you can. Consider what you can control and work to make changes in those areas. We have so many things that fall outside our control, but we can often control our choices. Many will do last-minute shopping, which can quickly add to stress. So, make a plan for what you will buy, set a budget, and stick to it. In addition, be careful to not overbook yourself, and say “no” when needed. Say “yes” to only what you can reasonably handle. You’ll be doing yourself a big favor!
Stress-related events, such as the holidays, can be a trigger for people. For some, they simply do not find the joy in the holidays that others are experiencing. They may feel loneliness due to not having family to celebrate alongside, or relapse into unhealthy habits. For those coping with the stress through alcohol misuse, they’ll want to prepare for times of stress by joining a support group (such as Alcoholics Anonymous), plan for vulnerable times, and meet regularly with your therapist.
Remember those with whom you won’t be celebrating this holiday season. For many, the holidays hold memories of loved ones lost. Take time to reflect about those who are no longer here to celebrate and find a meaningful and positive way to remember them, such as lighting a candle in your mother’s memory, or enjoying your uncle’s favorite side dish.
If you are already seeing a counselor, then make extra visits. People will often miss during the holidays. For some, additional visits might help you to keep your balance and perspective. Don’t miss doses of your medications because skipping some medications can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
How do I know when I should seek professional help?
An important consideration is whether symptoms are affecting personal relationships, work, or academic performance.
Seek medical attention for symptoms such as hopelessness, sadness or emotional numbing, tearfulness, loss of interest in things you once found pleasurable, suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of death. You are not alone. Ask for help and seek out a professional.
If I find that I need professional help, where do I turn?
A primary care physician, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist would all be appropriate places to turn to if symptoms worsen.
Are there red flags I should be aware of among my children, family, or friends during the holidays?
Children have particular difficulty as they lack the language and resources to express what they are feeling and what their needs are. They will more commonly “show” those adults closest to them through behavior changes. Be mindful of red flags such as moodiness or irritability, poor sleep and fatigue, and withdrawal from friends and special interests. In my practice, I notice people becoming increasingly in crisis mode, getting stuck in the negative or a problem focusing instead of adapting and shifting to solutions when stressed. Looking out for these changes in mood, behavior, and perceptions are some of the red flags to consider. When you see these, approach those you care about and work together to make a plan to get them the help they need.
How can I help my children, family members and friends that may be dealing with a case of the holiday blues?
Be a support. Help them to be easier on themselves, instead of focusing on how things should be or must be. Ask for specific ways you can be helpful to them, such as offering to come over and help a friend put up the holiday decorations or encouraging your children to take time for themselves and prioritizing commitments. Be mindful of over-scheduling or unrealistic expectations.
Leo Tolstoy once said, “If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.”
By simply shifting perceptions or expectations, one can significantly reduce stress. Not only perceptions of self, but don’t forget to have realistic expectations of those around you.
Do the holiday blues just go away after the holiday season?
By refocusing your efforts towards self-care and realistic perceptions, symptoms will improve. However, if symptoms worsen, seek medical attention. If you have had a pattern of depression throughout the winter months with symptoms of irritability, fatigue, weight gain, and relationship issues see your physician or mental health provider for diagnostic clarification and planning a treatment approach that works for you. Some individuals with these symptoms could be experiencing seasonal affective disorder.
Phototherapy (light therapy), medications to address serotonin levels or melatonin deficiency, or counseling can help you cope with stress. Working with a therapist can help you to improve your stress management techniques and find those coping skills that work for you – helping you to prepare for the coming year and tackle resiliently any stress that comes your way!
Note from Kelli and Mindi: Thank you Dr. Colvin! We appreciate your time and your commitment to the women, children and families in Southwest Missouri! Your work is appreciated and does not go unnoticed! Thank you for looking out for us! =)
SouthwestMissouriMoms.com does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is for informational purposes only and isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor if you have questions about a medical condition. Don’t delay getting professional medical advice because of something you read online. This website doesn’t necessarily recommend or endorse any specific tests, doctors, products, procedures or opinions discussed on the site.