4 min read


Amber Weiss

Managing Holiday Stress and Seasonal Affective Disorder

The holiday season is typically known as an exciting, joyful, and jolly time. However, holidays also involve excessive planning, shopping for gifts, traveling, and more, all while completing daily responsibilities. The heightened emotions and extra responsibilities make many people experience more stress than usual during this time.
Managing Holiday Stress and Seasonal Affective Disorder
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The holiday season is typically known as an exciting, joyful, and jolly time. However, holidays also involve excessive planning, shopping for gifts, traveling, and more, all while completing daily responsibilities. The heightened emotions and extra responsibilities make many people experience more stress than usual during this time.

What does holiday stress look like?

Here are some common ways that people may experience stress during this time: 

  1. Having to see family members you have complicated relationships with. 
  2. Dealing with the pressure of having to buy gifts for relatives, children, friends, etc.
  3. Being reminded of loved ones who have passed away and are no longer here to celebrate with
  4. Taking the time and energy to decorate your house and decorating your house for the holiday 
  5. Trying to accomplish your end-of-the-year goals, whether they are personal or professional
  6. Dealing with a romantic relationship and the thoughts and feelings of “where is this going” and commitment-related discussions

How can you manage holiday stress?

Here are some tips you may find useful: 

Allow yourself to break if you are feeling overwhelmed and under pressure.

Taking a break from stressful moments gives you a chance to restore your energy and mental resources. It is common to feel stressed and tired from the abundance of work life has in store for us, but it is important to take a step back when it is too much to handle.

Designate time to meditate and be alone.

Meditation is an act of mindfulness that practices focusing your attention on clearing the mind and relieving yourself of stressors.

Develop a routine that you can stick to.

Routines create structure and allow us to take control of our lives. Creating a routine during a busy season helps you to keep yourself accountable and on top of what you need to do in an organized fashion.

Make sure you get fresh air, even if you walk around the block.

Time spent outside reduces your cortisol levels which helps us to de-stress and create a healthy mind. One walk outside or opening up a window can help to calm the mind.

Find the strength to set boundaries with people and only have conversations you feel comfortable having.

Setting boundaries makes it clear to others what your limits are and what they are not. This helps to reduce stress by releasing the needs and wants of others and remaining true to yourself.

Set a budget for how much you want to spend on gifts.

Gift-giving can make a big dent in your bank account if you do not plan accordingly. Take the time to budget and write out a list of who you are buying gifts for and the amount you want to spend. Additionally, always remember, it is the thought that counts, so choose thoughtful gifts that won’t make you break the bank but will bring that wonderful holiday spirit to life!

Say “no” to anything that you do not feel you can mentally or physically handle.

Saying “no” gives you the opportunity to make time for more of what you want to do or don’t with your time. By saying “no” to others, you remain in control of your time and are not additionally stressed with too many responsibilities.

Set aside time each day to read a book or journal.

Keep your favorite holiday book or daily news nearby. Use this as a time to unwind and focus on one single task while engaging your mind and imagination.

Enjoy a soothing bath before bed.

Taking a bath has been shown to calm the nervous system by releasing endorphins and improving circulation in our bodies.

Watch a funny TV show or movie.

Laughing helps to relax the muscles, release endorphins, and relieve the physical symptoms of stress as well as emotional symptoms. Additionally, laughing increases your mood and increases positivity in your life.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can influence your feelings and emotions around this time of year. SAD affects nearly 15 million adults in the United States and is a form of depression resulting from seasonal weather changes. The emotional association with the season is what differentiates SAD from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Individuals with SAD most often experience dips in mood beginning in the fall and continuing throughout the winter months. SAD can be caused by a disruption in our circadian rhythm. In other words, the reduction of sunlight can disrupt your internal clock. Additionally, this reduced sunlight can decrease serotonin levels making individuals more prone to feelings of depression. Finally, the change in the seasons can affect your balance of melatonin, which in turn will affect your mood and sleep patterns. For individuals struggling with SAD, the additional stress of the holiday season can feel like more than you can deal with.

SAD Symptoms

The symptoms that you may expect to see in someone suffering from SAD include:

  1. Feelings of depression that last nearly all day, every day
  2. Loss of interest in activities
  3. Thoughts of hopelessness, guilt, or even death
  4. A decrease or increase in appetite
  5. Low amounts of energy and sluggish feelings
  6. Difficulty sleeping throughout the night
  7. Significant loss or gain of weight

SAD Treatments

Common treatments for SAD include light therapy, medications, and psychotherapy. Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is an activity where you sit near a light box, exposing your mind and body to bright light immediately after you wake up. Light therapy can mimic sunlight and alter the brain chemicals that are linked to feelings and mood. Medications, specifically antidepressants, can also help alleviate symptoms caused by SAD. 

Lastly, psychotherapy is an effective treatment option for SAD. Many professionals use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy, to help their patients through SAD by working to identify and then change the distressing thoughts causing their symptoms. In addition, you may be encouraged to participate in activities that relax the mind and body, such as Music therapy, Yoga, Meditation, or Art therapy. Utilizing techniques that allow you to feel grounded can be beneficial in alleviating symptoms of SAD. 

While SAD can be challenging, it does not have to consume your life. SAD is a disorder that can be diagnosed and treated, like many other mental health disorders. It can be easy to let the stress of the holidays and winter months take over your life. However, it is important to remember that you should also prioritize your own mental health during this time!

If you're interested in working with Amber and are located in New York, feel free to check out their profile here.

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About the author

Amber Weiss, M.A., NCC, LMHC, THTC, is a psychotherapist, clinical supervisor, and founder of Transformative Mindset (transformativemindset.com). She graduated from New York University and has over 10 years of experience working with a wide range of clients. Her specialties include working with individuals who experience depression, anxiety, addictions, eating disorders, and more. She utilizes a variety of techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy(CBT), solution-focused therapy(SFT), dialectical behavior therapy(DBT), and person-centered approaches. Please contact [email protected] to schedule an appointment with Amber.

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