By Julia Long
Studies show that the “most wonderful time of year” can actually turn out to be one of the most stressful times of year. The variety and intensity of demands—both social and academic—exacted upon students during the holidays lead to higher levels of stress and anxiety that can even transition into depression, though extreme cases are rare.
A study from the APA reports that more than a third of Americans report increased levels of stress during the holidays, that is, the time around Thanksgiving and the major winter holidays. Leading stressors include time, finances, and commercialism, or the “hype” and expectations that come with the holidays. This stress differs from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a form of clinical depression that peaks during a certain time of year. People with SAD should seek help from a physician, given that it is a medical condition caused by a person’s biology, rather than their environment.
If you’re struggling with the “holiday blues,” don’t fret! There are lots of ways to step back, relax, and put things in perspective. It is important to find a method that works for you, as everyone experiences anxiety differently. Here are some tried and true ways from professionals at the Mayo Clinic to help reduce anxiety:
- Acknowledge your feelings. The most important part of tackling a problem is realizing that there is one. Don’t feel bad or guilty if you’re stressed and aren’t in the most joyful mood. Recognizing that it’s okay to be sad or down in the dumps occasionally is better for long-term mental health.
- Be realistic. The holidays are a time of crazy expectations and pressure. Between tests, relatives, and social events, it can get a little hectic. It’s important not to let these expectations get away from you. Take the pressure off of yourself and don’t let others influence your decisions. Setting small goals can help you focus on things you prioriize without overwhelming yourself.
- Don’t abandon healthy habits. Marathoning the entirety of “Masters of None” in one night is not healthy, no matter what time of year. Take advantage of the extra time you have during breaks to take care of yourself, even if it’s only in small ways. You don’t need to completely change the way you eat or exercise for this to work. When you sleep better, eat well, and get exercise, you’ll feel better no matter what time of year it is.
- Take a breather. Take time for yourself to step back and put things in perspective. According to the Mayo Clinic, spending just 15 minutes alone, focused on a relaxing activity without distractions, can clear your mind and significantly reduce anxiety. Taking a walk, listening to some music, taking a shower, or reading a book are all good options that will reduce stress and help you tackle the rest of your problems.
Holiday-centric anxiety is common and not something to be ashamed of. It’s difficult to enjoy any time of year when one’s health is compromised, so take the time this season prioritize mental health.