It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving is around the corner, then Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s.
The holiday pressure seems to be here already. Is your gift shopping done early (there may be supply chain shipping delays)? Is it safe yet to make holiday plans to get together with family or friends? And by the way, what are you doing for New Year’s Eve?
While joy and happy family times are often associated with this time of year, experts at UConn Health’s Department of Psychiatry say the holiday season may also usher in feelings of extra stress, anxiety, feelings of depression, and loneliness. Plus, cold weather and less daylight, along with the lingering COVID-19 pandemic’s isolation, isn’t helping.
“The annual idealized images of holiday celebrations presented in the outside world may not fit, or be realistic, for many people,” says Karen Steinberg, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at UConn Health. “Also, holidays can be challenging because they may also herald sadness or grief about people who are no longer here, or other losses.”
Dr. Neha Jain, assistant professor of psychiatry and medical director of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at UConn Health, agrees. She says that if holidays – whether specifically this year, or in general – are a challenging time, then it’s time to take action now to make a change.
“If holidays stir up difficult memories, try to create new positive memories to replace them,” suggests Jain. “Aim to come up with your own new, fun traditions.”
This holiday season, UConn Health psychiatry experts’ top recommendations include:
- Take action well in advance of the holidays to plan, keep stress low, or create new memories.
- Make time to examine your life and be grateful for both the small and big blessings.
- Remember you are not alone, in your feelings or daily challenges.
- Have compassion for both yourself and others.
- Identify negative emotions when they arise and work to transform them into positive ones.
- Stay connected to family and friends who bring you joy, and avoid things that don’t.
- Stay active and ensure you get enough daily exercise to help boost your mood.
- Get enough sunlight outdoors, or alternatively inside through your home’s windows.
- Make sure to rest and recharge yourself, too, as your body needs time to recuperate.
- Always make time to do what you love or what brings you fulfillment, whether that means exercise, a hobby, spending time with supportive people, or finding quiet time to meditate.
“It’s important to know you are not alone if you feel sad, anxious, or overwhelmed during or leading up to the holidays,” stresses Steinberg.
She adds: “Try to make a space for these feelings and have compassion for yourself with your own process. Help transform negative emotions by identifying and incorporating new helpful practices that can help, whether connecting with supportive people in your life, cultivating mindfulness or present-centered awareness, or using creativity or pleasurable hobbies that engage your imagination and broaden your perspective.”
And in addition to the possible holiday blues, beware of the winter blues — and make sure to plan ahead accordingly.
“Winter’s reduced sunlight makes things a lot more difficult and complicated when you add to that stress of the holiday season,” says Dr. Jayesh Kamath, professor of psychiatry and immunology at UConn School of Medicine and research director for the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at UConn Health. “There is a direct relationship between how much sunlight enters our eyes, changes in our brain chemistry, and circadian rhythm, or our internal biological clock. This is one of the primary ‘biological’ reasons for the so called ‘seasonal affective disorder,’ or SAD.”
Jain suggests: “To help your body and mind adjust to the shorter duration of sunlight, maximize your time out in the daylight if possible. When indoors, try to work next to a window or use a white light.”
And don’t forget to make time to find reasons for gratitude and celebrate them this holiday season.
“Celebrate the small and big moments of your own life by just taking a moment of appreciation,” says Jain.
Happiest of holidays to all from UConn Health.