The holidays have arrived, filled with gifts, hugs, laughter and sharing.
Not to mention a possible dose of anxiety and depression.
Therapist Lori Edelson, owner of the Birmingham Maple Clinic, said it’s quite easy to catch a case of the holiday blues during this time of year. “Seasonal depression affects millions of Americans each year,” said Edelson. “The stress that comes with buying gifts, decorating and socializing can cause a severe case of the holiday blues that can go on even after the holidays are over.”
Edelson said there are two main reasons why people tend to experience holiday anxieties: One is expectations, the other is family.
“Most people have expectations around the holiday and those expectations are typically idealized,” she said. “We want things to go perfectly … we almost create this fantasy of how joyous this time of the year should be.
“So the bar is pretty high — many times it’s unrealistically high.”
The second reason, of course, can get a bit more complicated.
“It’s a time when we get together with our families and while our families are almost always some of the most important people in our lives, there are also histories and relationships that have gone on for years and years,” she said.
“In addition to the happiness and good memories and shared experiences, there are also a lot of problems we revisit when we’re sitting across the table from each other — and we don’t normally sit across the table from each other when we’re adults.”
Holidays can also take on a bittersweet tone, as they’re reminders of a recent illness or death, or even a divorce.
“Someone is missing for whatever reason,” said Edelson. “And there we are, all sitting together, and the evidence of change and who we used to be is all there in place. It’s kind of a reality check.”
Her advice? Enter the holiday period with a realistic attitude. Don’t expect perfection.
“Don’t expect people to be on their best behavior,” she said. “Be very consciously mindful of being flexible and open minded to allow each of our family members to be who they are — and not who we want them to be.”
An easy way to find some breathing room is to break up the party into smaller groups, especially if the extended family is staying together under one roof for several days.
“You don’t have to do everything together,” said Edelson. “Those small little discussions can prove quite rewarding. They can become the most memorable part of the weekend.”
On a practical note, moderation when it comes to eating or alcohol is always a good route to follow during the holidays. Sticking with an exercise plan — even if it’s just a 10-minute walk — always helps.
For those struggling to pay the bills, Edelson encourages them to focus on the most important part of any holiday — spending time with the people you love.
“To just feel loved and be able to give love to the people we’re closest to, is really the best gift,” she said.