It’s the most wonderful time of the year…. It’s how the song goes, but is it reality?
Family meals, tree decorations, presents, travel, the smell of hot chocolate and cinnamon, at first seem magical and wonderful. All of these enchanting things take time and preparation.
Written exclusively for Expat Network by Marina Tricard of PsychologistforParis.com
Unfortunately, we don’t have Santa’s little helpers to go to the mall for us, wrap our gifts, clean the house, cook the meals, travel to our holiday destinations and cope with our family members. The annual pressure we have on making our holidays perfect is enough to put any mom or dad into a stupor.
The holidays could be a very stressful time for people. According to the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of people said their stress level increases during the holidays. There are many different factors that contribute to the stress beside the pressure of holiday feasts.
There are environmental changes that start affecting us. The days are longer and nights are shorter. This triggers a hormone called melatonin to be released and overproduced earlier in the day which makes people feel lethargic. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland that responds to darkness by causing sleepiness (A.L., 2005). There is also a neurotransmitter called serotonin that is responsible for mood. The combination of decreased serotonin and increased melatonin can potentially cause some people to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) (S., 2015). According to the DSM-V, Seasonal affective disorder is a recurrent major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern usually beginning in fall and continuing into winter months. If that wasn’t enough?
There is also a visual change at the beginning of autumn and winter. Beside weather changing, the colours around us change as well. We go from vibrant lively greens of trees, pinks, reds of flowers, to greys, browns, and a disappearance of any sort of life at all. These environment factors, though minuet, contribute to our psychological wellbeing.
Additionally, for a variety of different types of professions, the period between November until the beginning of January is the time when workload increases. There are annual audits, financial reports, research, and statistical evaluations that all have the end of December as a deadline. There are also numerous unfinished tasks that need to be handled because they have been push aside for months.
This additional workload causes anxiety and stress to a person and could create something called Burn out. This term has become well known and more popular throughout the last decade. The World Health Organization recently defined the term “burnout” as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The Mayo Clinic says to look out for things like increased cynicism at work, disillusionment, overuse of substances, and changes in sleep habits. People that have been working via telecommunication have been isolated as well as expats that haven’t been able to leave back home.
To add a straw on the proverbial camel’s back; we were hit with the Covid-19 pandemic. The stress of being quarantined, our loved ones being sick or dying, the inability of seeing our loved ones that are “at risk”, and as simple as going to a theatre to enjoy ourselves has really took a toll on our mental health.
So how do we cope with all of these different negative factors this year? We can’t make the pandemic go away or stop the weather from changing. Yet, there are some things that we can do on a daily basis that will help us survive this season.
- Set Aside Time for Yourself
Try to find one or two hours per week where you can reenergize. Even it means taking a longer time at the grocery store or sitting in your car.
- Find Something that Gives You Pleasure
Remember when you enjoyed doing puzzles, scrapping, or retro-gaming. Go back to the thing that you stopped doing that gave you pleasure.
- Do Some Physical Activity
Gyms might be closed and we have to social distance, so working out has become even harder these days. Find some energy to go for a short run or do a quick 20 online workout. This increases the endorphins in our brains and makes us feel better.
- Don’t Discredit Little Wins
We need to create tasks that we can accomplish. Make a simple to-do list on a daily basis and cross them out one by one and enjoy. The fact that we accomplished putting the dishes away and wrapping gifts is already a win for us. Don’t discredit them by saying they are small.
- Seek out a Professional
Finally, there is no shame with seeking out extra help from professionals. Individual therapist, life coaches, yoga gurus, or online community therapeutic centres like Changing Places, all provide objective qualified care. There is no shame reaching out for help.
So, don’t let this holiday season overwhelm you by the multitude of negative factors. Take control of your life and help yourself the best way you can. Happy Holidays.
Melrose S. Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depress Res Treat. 2015;2015:178564. doi:10.1155/2015/178564
Miller A. L. Epidemiology, etiology, and natural treatment of seasonal affective disorder. Alternative Medicine Review. 2005;10(1):5–13.
Masters MHC and BS of Psychology
Owner of Psychologistforparis.com
Co-Owner of Changing Places Program