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But Doctor … Tis it not the season to be Jolly?

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What does Christmas mean to you? As sure as the tide, the mad season is upon us again – a time for turkey and ham, two-tone decorations and frantic searching at shopping malls to find that perfect stocking stuffer for your loved ones! The holiday season is supposed to be the fun time of year when you’re partying or celebrating and the media shows images of tight-knit families brought together by the Christmas spirit, right? In our attempt to pull together the perfect Hallmark holiday, the reality may not be so wonderful.

Christmas can expose the relationship pressure, financial strain and the physical demands affecting the everyday Australian this holidays. For many, the holidays become a revealing time of sadness, loneliness and anxiety. For example, not being able to spend time with family due to work or other commitments can cause stress due to the unrealistic expectations posed by the media about how much time we should be spending with our family. Additionally, the rising incidence of divorce and marital issues such as child custody are also forcing the family unit apart. The holidays also means school break. The added care, supervision, and noise associated with kids being home often distorts your sleep schedule, especially if you are trying to share with them all the holiday shopping and events of the season. Spending for gifts, often beyond our means (think credit cards and lay-by) added to the pressure of last minute shopping can also increase our anxiety levels and contribute to this “holiday stress”, and eventually to depression. Stress is defined as an organism’s total response to environmental demands or pressures. Stress impacts, in some form or another, everyone at some stage in their life, just in varying severity. A 1996 study found that 75% of adults felt abnormally stressed during their working week. This is a real problem and a real health issue. Stress may be implicated in up to 70% of patient visits to the family doctor. Almost everyone has felt “depressed” at sometime in their life, but clinical depression, or major depressive disorder is diagnosed based on episodes of low mood or loss of interest lasting at least two weeks accompanied by other signs. Stress and depression can ruin your holidays and affect your health. Spot the signs early before you break down. Things like a changing appetite, weight gain/loss, and problems sleeping and concentrating are your bodies warning bells. So what can you do about it? Here’s 12 tips on coping with holiday stress and depression;

  • Resolve personal conflicts – talking to a counsellor or psychologist can help.
  • Do the things you enjoy – In order to relax effectively, you need to allocate time to do things you enjoy, such as exercising, meditating, gardening or listening to music.
  • Plan ahead. Trust and encourage others to share the responsibilities of holiday tasks.
  • Make a list and prioritise the important activities. This can help make holiday tasks more manageable.
  • Manage your holiday spending. The stress can overwhelm when bills start arriving after the holidays are over.
  • Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. We all try to get more things done in less time during the holiday season, but research shows that multitasking can actually reduce performance by 20-40%!
  • Do not put all your energy into just one day (i.e. New Year’s Eve). The holiday cheer can be spread from one holiday event to the next.
  • Don’t set yourself up for disappointment and sadness by comparing today with the good old days of the past. Live and enjoy the present!
  • If you are lonely, try volunteering some time to help others this Christmas. Worthy organisations like St. Vincents de Paul and the Red Cross are everywhere.
  • Find holiday activities that are free, such as looking at holiday decorations or attending a Christmas Carol concert.
  • Don’t let the holidays turn into a dietary disaster! Indulgence is OK, but balance your eating with healthy snacks and go easy on the alcohol.
  • Make time for yourself! Learn to say ‘No’ more often. Create a balance between work and the things you enjoy doing.

Remember, the key to minimising holiday stress and depression is knowing that the holidays can trigger stress and depression. Learn to accept that things may not always turn out exactly as planned. Then take active steps to manage stress and depression during the holidays. You may just find you’ll enjoy the holidays this year a little more than you thought you could.(References: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV: Australian Family Physician: December 2006.)

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Posted On: 21 December, 2006
Modified On: 16 January, 2014

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