Ward Off the Winter Worries

Expert advice for preventing the holiday blues

Among those experiencing sadness and anxiety during the cooler months, some suffer from a clinical disorder known as Seasonal Affective Disorder and should consult a doctor.

Symptoms include: required stimulation from sunlight, Vitamin D deficiencies, fatigue and lack of interest in regular activities. This is a clinical condition that can be addressed by a professional. For more details, check out www.psychiatry.org/seasonal-affective-disorder.

However, many with seasonal anxiety suffer from something other than the biological. “If it’s not biological, it’s controllable from within,” said Dr. David Clayman, a Charleston psychologist. “People tend to isolate in winter months and maximize the negatives they encounter.”

How can you tell if your internal critic is wrecking havoc on your holidays? Dr. Clayman recommends that we ask ourselves reflective questions like these:

  • Are you worried about who will fight with whom or about what at the family gathering?
  • Are you anxious about what your family is expecting of you or what you expect of them rather than thinking about the quality time you’ll spend together?
  • Are you worried about who might criticize your culinary skills if you’re preparing the family meal?

There are many concerns that spin in our head at the holidays and these are just a few.

Clayman assures that relief comes from within and that these issues are related to the self-talk and negativity in your head. “It’s not what others do. It’s how you react to what they say and do. It’s not anticipating the worst, but focusing on the positive.”

Clayman’s tips for dealing with the worries of the season:

  • Think about what you can do to make this season better. For example, find something fun to make this season more fun and to assist with stress relief. Take up a seasonal hobby or find your own way to enjoy the season. Set goals for warmer weather or plan a trip to help you look forward.
  • Don’t set false or unreasonable expectations. The holiday fantasy doesn’t exist — not even in your mind.
  • Don’t force intimacy when and where it doesn’t exist. Appreciate the gathering or event for what it is. That also goes for people. Appreciate them for who they are now, not who they were when you were younger. People grow, including you.
  • Be flexible about the holiday and how you celebrate it. Experience the reason for the holiday. It doesn’t have to be at the same time/day it always has been. After all, is it about the specific day or the feeling?
  • Be willing to give others space. You can’t expect others to give you something that you won’t give them.
  • Have a signal to your significant other or someone else in whom you can confide. They will help you get a breather or get some space of your own.
  • Give yourself the freedom to seek private time. Maybe a walk after dinner, or a nap or some time to read a book. Take the time when you need it.

One major concern during the season of traditions and expectations is how to move on after a family member has died. Dr. Clayman recommends “to re-frame the holiday,” make new traditions and be flexible about how you celebrate the holiday. “It isn’t about the day on the calendar. It’s about the relationships and time spent together.”
For example, if one family member’s house was the gathering spot, change the venue or if certain recipes were prepared by the deceased family member, revise the menu. “Don’t grieve about what or who you’re missing,” Clayman urged. “Celebrate the memories you have and new ones that you’re making.”

These tips also come in handy for blended families: “Flexibility, focusing on the positive, and not trying to do too much at once.”

Clayman offered these four phrases for keeping calm and enjoying the holiday season.

  • Don’t over plan.
  • Don’t force it.
  • Look for the good.
  • Find humor in it.

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