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Holiday Stress vs. Holiday Blues: Coping With the Hype

11/05/2012 07:55 am ET | Updated Jan 05, 2013

What is holiday stress?

There are many reasons why we suffer from holiday stress, but one of the reasons is we unknowingly put undue pressure on ourselves with unrealistic expectations that generally revolve around family, friends, time management and spending.

The holiday hype that starts at the end of Halloween and goes through Jan. 2 is loaded with high hopes and heavy anticipation. For example, we have high expectations that family gatherings have to go smoothly and everyone has to get along, that holiday decorations have to look perfect or we have to buy the perfect gift for everyone. And speaking of gifts, in this depressed economic time, the pressure to spend a lot of money on gifts, especially if we don't have the money, can be a huge stressor.

Another expectation is we feel compelled to be merry and cheerful all the time. That puts a lot of undue stress on us and makes us feel guilty because we think everyone else looks so happy all the time. And that makes us ask: "What's wrong with me? Why am I not happy too?"

In addition, we suffer holidays stress because we overextend or overcommitt ourselves and put too much pressure to take on too many obligations. This can cause us to go into overwhelm.

Another reason is we also forget what is important and abandon the true nature of the holiday season. The holiday hoopla can easily overtake the true sentiment of the holidays, which is about reconnecting with friends, family and being good to each other.

Remedy:

• Slow down, pace yourself.

• Set realistic expectations regarding obligations, time with family, etc.

• Set clear boundaries and limits with others about what you can and cannot do.

• It's OK to say no sometimes and decide that you cannot satisfy everyone all the time. In the long run, you will have more patience if you carve out some alone time for yourself too.

• If you go away to visit family, try not to stay too long, and when you are there, take time for you. Perhaps you can turn it into a mini vacation. Also do the same if family is coming to visit you. Try to limit the time spent with them.

• Set realistic budgets for gift buying, travel and such. Overspending can lead to depression when the bills arrive. In these tough economic times we must be flexible. Accept that temporarily saving money and spending modestly is OK.

The truth is the holidays don't have to be perfect and remember that over time, as families grow and change, so do our customs and rituals. So we must be realistic and go with the flow and remember that for many of us the holidays are not a happy time.

What are holiday blues?

Holiday blues are about remembering painful memories from past holiday seasons that still feel unresolved, or remembering happy ones and comparing the happy ones with current ones. Or, holiday blues are simply about remembering losses in the past year, like a loved one that has recently died, a divorce, being laid off from work, etc.

New Year's Eve can also cause holiday blues because we tend to reflect back on the year with despair if not much has changed and we have little to show for it. And most importantly, we may get depressed because we fail to live up to the New Year's resolutions we set last year.

Remedy:

• Don't compare past holidays with the current one. When you compare, you despair.

• Remember who loves you and cares for you.

• Think about the less fortunate and inspire gratitude in your life instead of despair.

• Do not make too many big ticket resolutions that never get met. This causes depression. Most people set goals that are too high. Life is a game in increments. So, "I want to lose weight," for example, is too vague. Get specific about how much you think you can lose in a particular amount of time, like: "I want to weigh X amount of pounds by a certain date."

• Choose smaller goals that are more attainable and are measurable and have a lesser chance of failing. The big ticket ones can be set but must be spread out over the year.

• Writing down the goals helps to keep them fresh and legitimizes their purpose. Also, telling others about them in order to create accountability helps too. Don't keep them a secret.

• Is the resolution for you or someone else? It must be one that you yourself really want to achieve.

• Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption can be a big factor to holiday blues. Remember, alcohol is a depressant, so if you are feel anxious or down in the dumps and you drink a lot of alcohol, you are essentially treating depression with a depressant, and that is dangerous.

For more by John Tsilimparis, click here.

For more on mental health, click here.