While many people greet the holiday season as a time of joy and good tidings, it may also be filled with stress and triggers, especially for those already coping with emotional struggles.
It has been estimated that at any given point in time, approximately 40 percent of Americans meet the criteria for a depression diagnosis. Despite the data, and the pervasive nature of depression and anxiety, harmful myths abound that prevent people from seeking support.
The beliefs that depression manifests from a particular cause or only reveals itself as “feeling sad” are myths. Depression is not always a cause-and-effect phenomenon. Sadness is not depression and depression is not sadness. Depression is a prolonged state of general malaise and hopelessness. Corresponding physical symptoms may also occur. The stress of the holidays can increase these symptoms, disguised as typical “holiday blues.”
While family togetherness has a well-known potential for increasing tension during the holidays, it is equally important to note the vulnerability of those who have no family with whom to share the festivities. If we believe the social media hype—that everyone is happily shopping for presents, sharing meals together and celebrating—then for those who feel left out, these messages can serve as triggers and painful reminders.
Similarly, feelings of anxiety and grief can increase during the holiday season and winter months. The season of joy, happiness, life, light and love hardly seems the best time for someone who is struggling to talk about their pain and worry. Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness do not mix well with songs urging us to be “merry and bright.” The pressure to conform to the collective emotional norm is extremely intense around major holidays.
This year, as a gift to ourselves and to everyone we hold dear, let’s try to embrace both the joy and the stress that commingle this time of year. Those seemingly opposing emotional states can in fact be normal and healthy. In the spirit of the season, we would do well to remember that being loving to self and others, and taking good care, is the perhaps the greatest gift of all.
Be sure that you are taking care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating healthy and exercising as you normally would. It is important to practice good emotional hygiene and self-care throughout the hustle and bustle. Take timeouts when needed through meditation, reflection and slowing down! Identify your go-to stress relievers: read, binge Netflix, take a walk, pet a dog, go wild and take a nap (no shame allowed). Spend time with and pay attention to your loved ones, friends and co-workers. Check in, ask questions, and take the time to make someone else feel gifted with your attention and energy.
This time of year can be uplifting and renewing, but can be taxing and may also evoke stress, sadness and anxiety. ‘Tis the season to remember that since life is dynamic and ever changing, what we consider a
problem today, may instead become a guideline to mark positive change for tomorrow and beyond.
Best wishes to one and all, no matter how you and your family celebrate! And here’s to a mentally healthy 2020!
Outreach Teen & Family Services  is a nonprofit, confidential counseling center. We offer programs to youth age 5 to 21, parents and families, in a welcoming and supportive environment. 412-561-5405. This column is partially underwritten by the Mt. Lebanon Police Association.