Holiday Depression, Anxiety, and Stress? You’re Not Alone

The holidays can be a joyful time, offering a chance to reconnect with friends and family, but they can also bring two unwelcome guests: stress and depression.

And it’s no wonder. The holidays present a dizzying array of demands – parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few.

Too often we take holiday stress for granted. What’s worse, we often have higher expectations for this season than for any other time of the year. Holiday stress can affect anyone, even children. There are a lot of expectations around the holidays. Many people associate the holidays with social gatherings, rituals, and happy memories.

Planning for the holidays can leave us feeling impatient, cranky, and – in some cases – depressed. When the realities of day-to-day life conflict with our efforts to make the holiday season perfect, stress results.

Do your shoulders instantly tense up with the thought of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season? Does your heart skip a beat when you think about spending the entire day with your extended family during the most wonderful time of the year? Does the thought of a revolving balance on your credit card from overspending keep you up at night?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not alone.

In fact, according to a poll, more than 80 percent of us find the holiday season to be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ stressful; that ranks navigating the holidays right up there with asking for a raise!

What is it that has us all so hot and bothered?

All things in moderation, as the saying goes. The problem with the holiday season is that we often experience too much of a good thing. While stress itself is necessary for our survival and zest for life, too much stress has a negative impact on our health, both mental and physical. Too many activities, even if they are fun activities, can culminate in too much holiday stress and leave us feeling frazzled, rather than fulfilled.

An overabundance of parties and gift-giving occasions lead many people to eat, drink and be merry – often to excess. The temptation to overindulge in spending, rich desserts or alcohol can cause many people the lasting stress of dealing with consequences (debt, weight gain, memories of embarrassing behavior) that can linger long after the season is over.

Also, in these more difficult financial times, finding affordable gifts can be stressful in itself, and carrying holiday debt is a tradition that too many people unwittingly bring on themselves, and the stress that comes with it can last for months.

Not to mention getting together with family and friends. While this can be a wonderful thing, even the most close-knit families can overdose on togetherness, making it hard for family members to maintain a healthy balance between bonding and alone time.

Many families also have “roles” that each member falls into that have more to do with who individuals used to be rather than who they are today, which can sometimes bring more dread than love to these gatherings.

Balancing the demands of shopping, parties, family obligations, and house guests may contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed and increased tension. People who do not view themselves as depressed may develop stress responses and may experience a number of physical and emotional symptoms including headaches, excessive drinking, overeating, and insomnia.

Risk factors for depression, anxiety, and stress during the holidays include having a mood disorder or experiencing depression at other times during the year and a lack of adequate social support systems. Other risk factors can include recent trauma, life changes, excessive alcohol intake, or current illness. Having financial troubles may increase one’s susceptibility to anxiety or stress during the holidays. Stressful family situations and illness in the family are also predisposing factors. Essentially, any factor that can cause depression, stress, or anxiety in an individual can worsen these conditions at holiday time.

Even though it’s the holiday season, it’s also cold and flu season and your immune system is under assault. It’s getting dark earlier each day. You’re eating worse, sleeping less, and drinking more. By the time the family gathering rolls around, you’re worn out, tense, and fragile. The holiday stress makes it harder to cope with your family than it might be at other times of the year.

A simple history and physical exam may be all that is needed to diagnose a case of the holiday blues. Your health-care professional may perform lab tests or other tests to rule out any medical conditions that may be causing your symptoms. Likewise, a full history of your symptoms is likely to provide clues that can help distinguish a mild case of the holiday blues from more serious and chronic depressive disorders.

Go forth and celebrate the holidays stress-free! Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Glenn Ellis, is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. A health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, nationally and internationally on health related topics, Ellis is an active media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics. Listen to Glenn, every Saturday at 9:00am (EST) on www. wurdradio.com, and Sundays at 8:30am (EST) on www.wdasfm.com. For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com.