Coping with Stress, Depression & Anxiety During the Holidays

by | Dec 16, 2015

Last Updated April 1, 2024
manage stress anxiety

For some, the winter holiday season is a happy time of the year filled with parties, celebrations and social gatherings with family and friends. For others, it’s a miserable time filled with sadness, stress and anxiety, and may serve as a serious trigger to those struggling with mental and emotional disorders.

There are several reasons people may suffer from anxiety and depression during the holiday season. For some, the financial burden is too much to handle. Those who suffer from social anxiety may view the obligatory social functions to be a nightmare, while others who live away from family and friends may feel isolated or lonely during the holidays. The general gloom of winter weather is also attributed to causing depressive symptoms for an estimated 10 to 20 percent of Americans.

If you or a loved one struggles to maintain emotional stability during the winter holidays, consider the following to help cope with the stress:

Stick to a Budget

Before you begin spending money on gifts and decoration, take a serious look at your financial situation. Develop a realistic budget on how much you can reasonably spend, and stick to it. Consider some of these alternatives:

Instead of buying gifts, donate to charity

Instead of stressing over what to buy someone, donate to a charity in their name. You can also use this as a way to get out of traditional gift exchanges. Tell people who normally give you gifts that this year, you don’t want anything, and would rather they just donate $10 to your favorite cause.

Give Handmade Gifts

Presents don’t have to be big to show you care. Instead of going to the mall, make a batch of cookies or knit a handmade scarf as a less-expensive alternative. If you’re a creative type, consider giving them a painting or writing them a song. As an added bonus to saving money, crafting activities can help alleviate stress.

Start a Family Gift Exchange

You may not be the only member in your family who views the holidays as a financial burden. Propose a family gift exchange to help with cost. Here are some fun gift exchange ideas.

Seek out shopping deals and discounts for federal workers

Many stores offer discounts for federal employees even though they don’t advertise them. Always ask, as these perks to being a federal worker are a great way to save money. This article from FedSmith lists several resources for some of the best holiday shopping deals for federal workers.

Take a Breather to Reduce Stress

Make sure you allocate at least 15 minutes for time to yourself each day. Go for a walk, read a book, listen to music  — whatever benefits your peace of mind. Also consider trying meditation. Meditation has been shown to help cope with stress, and physically alter your brain to improve things such as emotional regulation and attention span. For more information, visit this link.

Don’t Let SAD Keep You Down

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to the seasons. People who live farther from the equator may experience depression-like symptoms during the winter months when there is less sunlight. Symptoms include sluggishness, weight-gain, feeling depressed, craving carbohydrates and oversleeping. Treatment for SAD sometimes includes light therapy, where you sit a few feet from a special light therapy box so that you’re exposed to bright light. Light therapy mimics natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood.

Most recommended light boxes range from $100 to $200; however, some insurance companies may reimburse the cost if you include a note from your doctor.

Learn to Say “No”

Don’t feel like you have to agree to every request made during the holidays. Saying yes to something you would rather say no to can cause you to feel overwhelmed.Your friends and loved ones will understand if you can’t participate in every event or activity.

Stay Healthy

The sugar-rich sweets and drinks at holiday parties make it easy to neglect your health during the holidays. Try to avoid overindulgence, as carb-heavy foods negatively impact energy levels, which can contribute to depression. Get plenty of sleep, and incorporate regular physical activity into your daily routine.

Reach Out

If you feel lonely or isolated during the holidays, seek out community, religious or other social events for support and companionship. Also look into volunteer opportunities, which are a great way to meet new people, create new friendships, and support others during the holiday season. Check out, a website managed by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which allows you to search for volunteer opportunities based on interest and location.

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