Health Blog

Dealing with holiday stress

Managing Holiday Stress and Depression

Plan Ahead to Take the Stress Out of Holiday Season
While the winter holidays can be a time of great joy, they can also bring stress and mood problems. Planning ahead of time for the challenges of the season can help alleviate holiday-related stress, says James Kelleher, MD, Medical Director of The Behavioral Health Center at Montefiore Nyack Hospital.

“There are many reasons for winter holiday stress,” Dr. Kelleher said. “These can include family tension, having too many time commitments related to the holidays and seasonal mood changes.”

To reduce stress during the holidays, Dr. Kelleher recommends these steps:

Don’t overcommit yourself. You don’t have to participate in every holiday activity.

Plan ahead. Start thinking now about everything you have to do, from buying presents to cooking. Make a schedule of holiday-related tasks for the next several weeks so you don’t leave it all to the last few days.

Make time to relax. Exercise, do yoga or meditate. Set aside time to engage in other activities you enjoy, such as reading, listening to music, getting a massage or taking a walk.

Set aside differences. If your relationship with a family member has been strained, try to set aside those feelings during the holidays. “You could agree with a sibling or other family member that you won’t discuss certain topics,” Dr. Kelleher said. “Or if you’re invited to the house of a relative with whom you have a strained relationship, you can tell them that despite your differences you’re looking forward to having a good day—and bring a gift to reinforce that message.”

Watch your alcohol intake. Drinking too much can exacerbate an already stressful gathering, or lead to an embarrassing situation at a work party.

Seek help for winter mood changes. If the short, cold winter days are sapping your energy and making you feel moody, you may have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons. If you feel depressed for days at a time, can’t get yourself to do normal activities, and your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, see your doctor. Treatment may include light therapy. A person using light therapy sits in a room with a special light therapy box that exposes them to bright light.

“While the winter holiday season can present some challenges, there are a lot of rewards to be found around the holidays,” Dr. Kelleher said. “The warmth of family and the spiritual dimension of the season can be very helpful to people’s wellbeing.”