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During this time of the year, many people experience a decrease in mood, generally referred as Holiday Blues or an increase in stress. How can we lower our holiday distress?

How to Cope with Holiday Blues and Stress

When we take a look back at holiday movies, there is usually an element of distress. It can be seen as some character feeling more nostalgic, missing their loved ones if they are far away, or anticipating conflict in family gatherings. Other characters respond with anxiety to the increase in demands such as feeling the pressure to spend more money or to arrange the perfect gathering. Somehow in these movies, it all works out in the end as the characters have emotional growth and change their perspective, focusing on what truly matters to them.

While watching these movies, we are rooting for these characters. We see their struggle and sometimes identify with it. When all conflict is resolved, we feel good and that association between a positive emotion and the holidays is what we end up getting from the movie.

When we add music to the mix, we can see another powerful social element. At times a “reminder” of how we “should” feel. Holiday music can be serene or joyful, it can also trigger memories from childhood. For some, those memories are overall positive, a time with few responsibilities, where adults took care of you, you spent time with loved ones, ate great meals, and received presents. For others, it can trigger memories of conflict and distress.

During this time of the year, many people experience a decrease in mood, generally referred as Holiday Blues or an increase in stress. Some common triggers are related to changes in routine, reducing their exposure to natural light, remembering how they used to spend time with loved ones who are no longer present, fearing going over budget with additional expenses, or having to spend time with others when there are conflicting dynamics among many others.

How can we deconstruct a message that we have received all through our lives? How can we break these associations and lower our holiday distress?

  1. Validate your feelings. When you understand that many people have an increase in distress at this time of year, you are reducing the pressure that comes along with those “should've” thoughts.
  2. Recognize the changes that you might have had in your routine. If because of the weather you are staying indoors more than usual, try to take a brief walk at the warmest time of the day.
  3. Understand what your triggers are. Why are you feeling this way? Are you missing someone? Are you feeling uncomfortable with holiday traveling? Dedicating some time to understanding your triggers, can help you develop coping strategies.
  4. Stay connected. If you are far from your family and friends, focus on ways to stay connected such as video calls. Also, try to interact with other groups of people in your community.
  5. Grief. Sometimes when we have lost a family member, we feel a more intense need of grieving or we are truly reminded of how much we miss that person. When we are grieving, we can also transform our melancholy into action by honoring their memory and sharing lovely memories, maybe even cooking their favorite holiday meal.
  6. Concentrate on your selfcare. This includes monitoring your sleeping and eating patterns, exercise, engaging in soothing and pleasant activities.
  7. Visualize that there is no one right way to spend the holidays. Try to be open to new experiences and consider creating new traditions.
  8. Take a moment each day to practice gratitude. Let’s focus on the moment, let’s not anticipate discomfort, permit yourself to be grateful for what you have.
  9. Remind yourself that this is a temporal situation and practice affirmations. You’ve got this!
  10. Growth. Lastly, know that our lives are not a movie plot, and our situations will not resolve in two hours. But if we learn something from the holiday movies is that the growing experience that comes from learning from our struggles and changing our perspectives is truly transformative.

Dr. Karem Cando is CHE’s Clinical Director for the South Region. She lives in Florida with her husband Javier and daughters Paola and Adriana. During the Holiday season, she likes to listen to traditional Puertorrican Christmas music, eat traditional meals, and video-call family members if not able to be together.