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How to Cope with Holiday Stress and Winter Blues

Last updated: December 12, 2022

For some, the holidays are triggers that they are alone, that they are grieving someone, and that they are financially strained, and this can lead to depression.

Jeanine Rysewyk, Counselor, ThedaCare Behavioral Health

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it? Gift-giving and family gatherings are joyous for many, but for others, this season can bring stress and winter blues.

Beyond that, the American Academy of Family Medicine Physicians estimates that up to 6% of people experience seasonal affective disorder. The condition is a type of depression that happens during certain seasons of the year, most often fall or winter. It’s thought that shorter days and less daylight may trigger a chemical change in the brain.

Holiday Stress Solutions

“Holiday stress is very real and difficult for many people,” says Jeanine Rysewyk, LPC, a counselor with ThedaCare Behavioral Health in Menasha.

How can you slow the hustle and bustle this time of year? Our mental health experts have some tips.

  • Practice good time management. Plan well in advance and give yourself enough time to complete the tasks that are important to you.
  • Prioritize what you want to accomplish. Many people attempt to “keep up with the Joneses” during the holidays, but focusing on your family and the traditions you enjoy can bring peace to what many find to be a chaotic time.
  • Be OK with saying “No.” There is a sense of empowerment when you use the word “no.” Cutting back on some of the gatherings and activities you are invited to can lower stress levels.
  • Make time for self-care. Instead of going to one more party, make an appointment for a massage or a manicure, or fit in time for a daily walk or exercise class. 
  • Learn to accept imperfection. No individual or family is perfect, and learning what is important is more meaningful than having the “perfect” holiday.  
  • Be mindful of your mood. If you feel overwhelmed and are experiencing increasing irritability, low motivation and crying bouts, ask for help. Talk to a friend, family member, religious leader, therapist or doctor and seek what you need for a calmer holiday season.

Winter Blues Workarounds

Seasonal depression can hit people as early as fall, but the holidays can be particularly difficult for many of us.

“For some, the holidays are triggers that they are alone, that they are grieving someone, and that they are financially strained, and this can lead to depression,” Rysewyk says. “Factor in the cold Wisconsin weather and less daylight, and people tend to begin to feel depleted.”  

To beat the blues, therapists suggest finding a routine and purpose during the winter. That can include outdoor activities, joining a group, volunteering or setting up a weekly meeting time with friends. Many communities offer guides filled with programs and activities.

“They are ways to get out of your home, to meet others and to enjoy these Wisconsin winters,” Rysewyk says.

“We don’t have to love these activities, but since the dark, cold days aren’t going to change anytime soon, being active — whether physically or emotionally — will make them a bit easier,” she adds.

Those experiencing winter blues also may benefit from group therapy. “People can gain tools so that they do not dread winter every year,” says Michael Larkey, MSW, LCSW, a therapist withThedaCare Behavioral Health. “They will gain insights from their peers as group members share ideas on what others have done to get through the winter.”

Read more about how group therapy might result in a healthier state of mind here.

Learn more about services offered through ThedaCare Behavioral Health.

To inquire about group therapy and other care options, call (920) 720-2300.

Tags: anxiety Christmas depression Grief group therapy holidays Mental Health Thanksgiving

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