Three Ways to Manage Stress During the Holidays

Dec 6, 2021 | Mental Health, Seasonal

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Cancel Christmas? No way. Here are 3 insights to manage your stress and curb your feelings of depression around the holidays

Have you ever heard that, because they feel depressed around the holidays, more people die by suicide than at any other time of the year?

Not true, explains Raymond Tucker, PhD. This is a myth he often encounters while counseling patients and training medical students as an assistant professor of psychology at LSU and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at LSU Health Sciences Center/Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge.

First, the suicide rate tends to go down this time of year — it is highest in spring and summer. And second, depression is not an accurate predictor of who kills themselves, Tucker says. There are 16 million episodes of major depression every year in the United States, while 50,000 die by suicide.

However, examining those misconceptions reveals useful insights that can help curb feelings of stress and depression during the holidays.

Insight No. 1: To feel better, focus not on what you must do, but on what you probably stopped doing in response to stress.

Many people have reported gaining weight during the pandemic. They also report feeling more stress and greater isolation from friends and family.

But blaming stress-eating for weight gain or quarantine restrictions for feelings of isolation are overly simplistic. In fact, in many cases people gain weight because their meal routine is disrupted or they stop doing physical activities they enjoy. People feeling isolated may have simply abandoned vital social contact as soon as they started to feel stressed out.

The remedy? Recognize the value of healthy daily routines — consistent meal times, regular exercise, regular sleep schedule, fulfilling social connections. They are the very things that curb those feelings of depression.

Insight No. 2: You don’t have to wait for motivation to take action.

“It’s a myth that motivation comes before action,” Tucker says. “Motivation sometimes doesn’t come until after a behavior.”

People cite the absence of a motivational spark as a reason not to eat better, exercise or keep in contact with loved ones.

“If you feel unmotivated, give yourself a break,” Tucker says. “Recognize you feel off, and that by getting up and doing the activity you will feel better and be more motivated in the future.”

Insight No. 3: This holiday season, embrace change rather than scrapping favorite activities.

Although Christmas 2021 may look different, don’t cancel it, Tucker says.

It might be tempting to throw up your hands and give up on cherished annual gatherings and traditions, but doing so could worsen feelings of stress or depression, Tucker says.

Identify the things you enjoy about Christmas, and start discussing plans now so you can figure out how to celebrate them while making necessary accommodations.

Can’t all get together? Embrace Zoom or Skype; schedule a practice run weeks in advance to iron out technical glitches. Will you miss hosting a big Christmas meal? Consider preparing a meal for a needy family or volunteering.

“Try to live in line with your values and the things you hold important,” Tucker says. “It may not be the Christmas you wanted, but it’ll be better than no Christmas at all.”

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: If you or anyone you love maybe struggling with thoughts of suicide, or if you want to know more about how to help somebody, please call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or text 741741.

    Primary care providers are trained to assist patients with depression, stress and other mental health conditions, including making referrals to specialists or connecting patients with helpful resources. Find a PCP here.

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