The holidays should be a time of celebration, but for many they can bring on negative emotions as well. Depression, stress, anxiety and diminished self-worth can all take hold. We share some tips on how you can keep an eye on your well-being and ensure you take care of yourself this season.
Dharshini Chanderbhan is the clinical director of Chanderbhan Counselling Services in Toronto. As a long-time counsellor, she understands how hard this time of year can be for many Canadians. To help make things a little more manageable this year, she’s sharing helpful tips on how to cope with some of the challenging mental health concerns that can arise over the holidays.
Recognizing and dealing with anxiety
At a time of year when it’s hard to know how every occasion will play out, it’s natural for you to feel anxious. The pressures of holiday spending as well as the obligation to see relatives or acquaintances you don’t feel comfortable around can be overwhelming.
Dharshini recommends doing deep breathing exercises and practicing mindful meditation to calm your body and mind. It may also be beneficial to keep a log of what your anxiety triggers are so you can identify what’s getting to you. Once you’ve identified the triggers, you can work at developing healthier coping techniques.
Stress is a big part of the holidays for many of us. If you find talking through the issues helps reduce your stress level, Dharshini advises you to call a distress centre in your area to get things off your chest. She also finds mindful meditation can be helpful, as it helps you focus on the present moment rather than getting caught up in thinking about the past or future. Even small additions to your routine, such as taking a warm bath, listening to music, exercising, reading and journalling, can be effective in decreasing your stress level. If none of these methods help you, Dharshini suggests cognitive restructuring through psychotherapy or counselling, as either may help you see stressful situations from different perspectives.
Coping with an increased feeling of being depressed
Dharshini admits that at her practice she notices an increased level of depression in people over the holidays. The holidays focus on spending time with family, so if you don’t have a family to spend the holidays with or if you have to spend more time with family members with whom you have strained relationships, it’s understandable that you may feel sad at this time of year. Lack of family can cause you to feel isolated and lonely, while seeing unfriendly relatives can lead to social anxiety. Both can cause feelings of depression. Dharshini explains that the change in weather can also trigger increased feelings of anxiety and depression, as you’re forced to stay inside more often and deal with shorter, darker days.
To combat these upsetting emotions, Dharshini recommends seeking out others in similar situations. Surrounding yourself with positive, helpful people, such as psychotherapy groups, one-on-one counselling or simply like-minded social groups, can be a great source of support over the holidays. Dharshini also recommends trying out new activities or getting involved with charitable organizations to alleviate feelings of depression. Consider volunteering at a local food bank or soup kitchen or raising money for a good cause to ease some of your painful symptoms of depression.
Struggling with self-worth
The holidays may cause you to put pressure on yourself to buy the perfect gifts for loved ones and to create gourmet meals for special occasions. And when things don’t go according to plan or if some presents are simply too expensive, it may cause you to feel you aren’t good enough. If self-worth is an issue at this time of year, Dharshini advises you to look at things from a different perspective. The very fact you’re trying to get someone a gift or to cook something delicious says a lot about you as a person, and that is something to be proud of.
Dharshini advises you to refocus your energies on the true meaning of the holidays — spending time with your loved ones if possible or doing good for others in need.
If any of these concerns become overwhelming, counselling and cognitive- or emotion-focused therapy may be helpful. If you live in the greater Toronto area, contact Chanderbhan Counselling Services for more information. If not, seek out similar services near you. Many resources can be found out there, so don’t be afraid to reach out.