December 18, 2017
For many, the holiday season of December is generally thought of as a happy and joyful time. There is cheerful, uplifting music on the radio; sentimental, syrupy movies with happy, sometimes magical, endings are on the television all day long; and everyone is generously buying gifts for one another. We generally think especially of children around this time of year, who are highly anticipating Christmas morning when they can race from their beds and giddily open up all their presents from Santa Claus!
However, despite the happy overtones, not everyone finds joy in the holiday season. Not often found or discussed on the radio or television is the immense amount of stress that the holidays can cause for some. There are many reasons some people become depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, sad, and even angry over the holiday season; and, fortunately, New Orleans has plenty of great counseling options available if one is needing or wanting help in dealing with the negative, troubling emotions that the holidays might be bringing.
Let's now discuss some common causes for holiday stress. Most likely due in part to the constant barrage of joyful images of the perfect Christmas on TV and on the internet, especially social media, many people will set unrealistic expectations for how their holidays "should" be unfolding. Constantly comparing one's own life to the picture-perfect scenes in advertisements, Instagram and Facebook posts, etc., is a recipe for disappointment, because the events of our lives are rarely, if ever, 100 percent perfect. In anticipating something that is unrealistic, it is not uncommon to experience stress. And if this stress remains underground, hidden from consciousness, not only will that stress build within the individual, it can also manifest within friendships, romantic partnerships, and familial relationships, as these negative emotions unfortunately tend to spill onto the closest targets.
Next, planning for the holidays can be an extremely stressful experience. Trying to visit multiple family members (especially if they live out of town), not wanting to say no to any event, and at the same time trying to meet year-end deadlines at work can sometimes cause a person to overextend themselves. Many of us begin to put unreasonably high pressure on ourselves, thinking we have to make everything work perfectly, and if we cannot, well, then something must be wrong with us. In the end, a lot of people feel that they can never do enough and become discouraged, feeling they have let their loved ones down.
Another phenomenon that typically rears its head this time of year is Seasonal Affective Disorder ("SAD"), a form of depression that is brought on by the changing of seasons. According to American Family Physician, it is estimated that 4 to 6 percent of the population may suffer from winter depression, another 10 to 20 percent may have mild SAD, and SAD is four times more common in women than in men.
If you think you may be suffering from SAD, or if you can't understand why the holiday season seems to bring you more pain than joy, it may be wise to consult with a mental health professional. There are many forms of psychotherapy and counseling that can help you through these rough times and assist in mitigating the symptoms and effects of depression, anxiety, and other unexplained strong negative emotions.