Coping With The Holidays

In this time of year, much is made of the excitement for the holidays.  However, there are many reasons why the holiday season may be difficult, and we are here to offer extra support if you need.

Holidays are often a deviation from the routine.  This is particularly troublesome for individuals who rely on predictability, routine, and structure to stay calm.  Individuals who are impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and other diagnoses may struggle when the routine is changed by time off school or work, unexpected visitors, and evening events and celebrations.  Additionally, there are increased sensory experiences, such as flashing or blinking lights, large inflatable decorations, and many smells and other sensations that can be overwhelming to a person who has sensory processing differences.  Helping to prepare an individual, such as using a social story about the holidays, warning them about events on a calendar, and coming up with a strategy such as a safe place when you need to calm down, can help with these types of struggles.

Stress is increased during the holidays, with almost 25% of Americans identifying “extreme stress” during this time of year.  Women report more stress, and many point the finger at the push of commercialism and consumerism that also increases at this time of year.  Remaining mindful, and remembering that this does not have to be “the best” holiday season, but instead, focusing on the experiences and people who are present at that moment can help ease some of the stress and tension of the holiday season.

The myth that depression and suicide increase during the holidays is a common one, but in reality, it is January and February, after the “holiday letdown” that risks are higher for mood and suicidality.  However, holiday blues are a very real experience, and many people report having mixed feelings, of both joy and gratitude, but also grief and sadness about lost loved ones, or reminiscent of earlier traditions.  Keeping expectations realistic, and making sure to schedule in time for self-care can help as well.

A true increased risk during the holiday season is an increase in alcohol related fatalities and injuries.  Alcohol is often included in celebrations, which is ironic, considering that alcohol is a depressant.  Maintaining moderation, and again using the tactic of mindfulness can help.  Instead of using alcohol as an enhancement of the social event – or the courage to get through an anxiety provoking event – instead focus on the present moment, and look for the joy and enjoyment that can be identified.

With the right amount of balance, preparation, and self-care, the holidays can be enjoyable and can set the tone for a happy new year.  The key is finding what works for you, maintaining mindfulness in the moment, and remembering that this will pass – until next year!