By Guy Caley
Special to GUIDON
Stress and depression can ruin your holidays and hurt your health. However, being realistic, planning ahead and seeking support can help.
The holiday season often brings a full plate of expectations — shopping, entertaining and travel to name just a few. For many in the military community, the holidays can bring disappointments and loneliness, too.
But with some planning and perspective, the stress that often accompanies the holidays can be minimized.
Tips to prevent holiday stress and depression
When stress ambushes you, it can be hard to fight your way out. It’s better to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past. Here are some tips:
— Acknowledge your feelings. If you’ve experienced recent loss or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
— Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek people out. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
— Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like they were in the past. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change, as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if you can’t be with family, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos — or the 2020 alternative: a virtual meeting.
— Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. Try to be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
— Stick to a budget. Before you shop for gifts, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.
— Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, speaking with friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That will help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients.
— Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity.
— Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to stress and guilt. Be intentional about a healthy diet on the “normal days” and try to keep your dietary splurges reasonable. Get plenty of sleep and incorporate regular physical activity into each day.
— Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing.
— Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your chaplain, doctor or a mental health professional. Civilians and service members alike can seek the Employee Assistance Program, for someone to talk to or for a referral to additional resources. If you find yourself spiraling out of control, call the suicide help line at 800.273.8255.
Take control of the holidays. Don’t let the holidays become a battle.
Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and good perspective, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.
To reach the Fort Leonard Wood Employee Assistance Program call 573.596.7199 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Editor’s note: Caley is the Fort Leonard Wood Employee Assistance Program coordinator.)