The holiday season, although a joyous time, can be difficult for someone with a social anxiety disorder, which can worsen anxiety, stress and depression. With the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities right around the corner (November 26th, in case you forgot), some of us are rushing around to get things done, while others are dreading the whole event.
In theory, getting together with the family should be a joyful time, but for many of us it can simply add more stress. Tension, arguments, sorrow and loss can all spring up when families come together.
A recent poll from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America found that three-quarters of respondents feel more anxious and depressed during the holiday season. Attempting to create a perfect scenario and environment, which sets standards quite high, is the reason for the added stress. With all this added pressure of cooking the right food, setting the right table and looking your best, it can cause some serious mental havoc.
Holidays may lead to anxiety, stress and depression
There are many reasons why the holidays can lead to stress, anxiety and depression, such as financial pressure, unrealistic expectations and having too much to do in such a short amount of time. Even though the holidays should be enjoyed, they often just leave you feeling worn out, both mentally and physically.
To make matters worse, many individuals suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a form of depression that occurs during the winter months due to a lack of sunlight. Therefore, if you’re already feeling down, getting together with the whole family is not necessarily your best option.
Even though being far away from people seems like the best idea, to get over your “winter blues” or to have better management of stress and anxiety, reaching out to people can actually be the best form of therapy. There are other ways you can better manage your holiday stress and anxiety, which we will discuss in detail later on.
Social anxiety disorder during the holidays
Social anxiety disorder is characterized by anxiety or fear in social situations where a person is vulnerable to be scrutinized by others. For individuals with social anxiety disorder, Dr. Kalina Michalska from the Section on Developmental and Affective Neuroscience at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says, “The individual overestimates their likelihood of being rejected and frequently fears that he or she will act in a way that will be embarrassing and humiliating.”
The symptoms of a social anxiety disorder can be debilitating and even prevent a person from leaving their home, fearing they will enter scenarios where they feel judged or scrutinized. Symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:
- Fear of being judged
- Worry about humiliating yourself
- Concern that you will offend someone
- Fear of interacting with strangers
- Fear that others will notice your anxiety
- Fear of what your bodily functions may do
- Avoiding public speaking
- Avoiding being the center of attention
- Anxiety and fear for upcoming situations
- Analyzing performance after a social situation is done
- Expecting the worst possible outcome of situations
- Faster heartbeat
- Shaky voice
- Difficulty catching your breath
- Muscle tension
A social anxiety disorder can be the result of inherited traits that run in a family, changes in brain structure or a person’s environment.
Triggers and causes for holiday stress and depression
There are three main triggers of holiday stress and depression: relationships, finances and physical demands. Relationships can be stressful any time of the year, but the holidays can add extra stress and tension. From getting together with family members to spousal arguments, a clash of personalities is bound to occur one way or the other. What’s important to note is that without those around you, the holidays would be a very lonely time; dealing with your relationships can improve the holidays and help them pass without a hitch.
Finances are also a major stress around the holidays. Purchasing gifts and ensuring they are what the person wants, all the while ensuring you can still afford your own daily finances, can be very stressful. It’s important to make your own limits and stick with them, and only spend what you can without fear that you will let someone down. Remember, the holidays are about being together, not about the latest gadget.
Lastly, there are many physical demands around the holidays. Putting up decorations, walking around malls, standing in lines and shuffling around a kitchen can all take a toll on your body. It’s important to ensure you are getting adequate sleep and taking some time to relax. If you burn out, it can only lead to more problems.
Tips to manage stress during the holidays
If you want to make the holidays run as smooth as possible while still maintaining your mental and physical health, here are some tips you can utilize to do so.
- Acknowledge your feelings – trying to ignore how you feel will only increase depression and anxiety.
- Mend relationships or learn to deal with them – even if you’re not fond of your uncle, you will most likely have to see him; therefore, it’s important to put those negative feelings aside and learn how to cope.
- Create a budget – setting limits on gifts and holiday spending can leave you at ease; not in the hole after all is said and done.
- Seek help if necessary.
- Schedule down-time – it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle, but scheduling time for yourself can allow you to recharge.
- Don’t abandon healthy habits – the holidays aren’t an excuse to throw healthy habits out the window. Ensure you continue to eat well, exercise, drink in moderation and are getting enough sleep.
- Make realistic expectations – we all want holiday grandeur, but sometimes we simply don’t have the means to do so or problems arise. Instead of being hard on yourself, accept that things aren’t perfect and that everyone is still having a good time (even without the hand-painted turkey centerpiece!).
- Spend time alone – although relationships are important, alone time is equally important, so take time out of your busy schedule to reconnect with yourself.
- Forgive – with a new year approaching, it’s a good idea to forgive those who have done you wrong, and even forgive yourself. Begin the new year with a fresh start.
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