‘Tis the season of holiday stress

Dr. Adisa Azubuike

No, you are not weird, or strange, or crazy. You are just like many other people who have trouble with this whole “holidays thing.” You don’t like the holidays because the holidays fill you with dread and stress.

Around this time of year your disappointments, estrangements, losses, and loneliness, are exaggerated. You may more deeply miss your cultural and family practices and traditions.  You feel a lot of pressure to do things in a certain way, even when your heart is not in it. You don’t know if you really want to buy gifts, wrap gifts, send cards, receive cards, dress in ugly sweaters, or go to the family gathering. You are not sure if you are up to smiling, talking, and laughing when you may have had a recent break-up or unwanted career change.

For many people this is not a festive season. This is a stressful season. A time when they experience profound isolation and are unable to talk about how disconnected they feel from all the societal celebrations. For me, a clinical psychologist in private practice, this is the beginning of my busiest and most saddening part of the year.  Saddening because I would ideally want more, if not all, of us to feel as wonderful as I feel being around family and friends.  But at the same time I know and understand that many people are unable, due to circumstance or situation, to enjoy this time.

For some of them, this season, with morning and early darkness and reduced sunlight, can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition that makes people feel more down, tired, worried,  and out of sorts than any other time of the year. And in this holiday season of 2016, many more people from around the world and especially in Canada, are suffering from “P”T”SD/”P”O”SD”—Presidential Trump Stress Disorder and Post Obama Stress Disorder.  This article is written for all of you who are feeling stressed, and it is also for all of us to become more aware and sensitive of the many people around us who are feeling disconnected, discarded, discontented and distressed during these holidays.

Here are a few suggestions:

For all of us who enjoy this time, please don’t assume as much as you did before, that everyone feels the same. Then make a special effort to reach out more to others during this season.

For many of us who are suffering from Presidential Trump Stress Disorder and Post Obama Stress Disorder (“P”T”SD/”P”O”SD”), unplug from CBC, CNN, The Star, and The Globe and Mail more frequently, and follow as much of the remaining suggestions.

For those who suffer from symptoms that sound like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), please check with your physician or a psychologist for help. Using a Daylight Lamp on a daily basis has also been shown to be very effective. Something that a psychologist will definitely know more about.

If you feel compelled to engage in gift buying even when it is stressful, every time you go to the mall, walk for at least thirty minutes without stopping before you start your shopping. If you can, in your neighbourhood community center or gym, walk or swim for at least thirty minutes for four times per week. Exercise is one of the best de-stressors and mood boasters.

A great way to exercise and connect is to join an enjoyable physical activity or learn a new physical activity during this time like basketball, bowling, curling, ping pong, indoor hockey, indoor Soccer, or other indoor sports. There are many bowling leagues and indoor sports leagues around our city.

Connections are very important. So if you are feeling lonely, one of the ways to connect on an authentic level is to volunteer to help cook the many holiday meals offered at different charitable organizations around our city. Another novel way to feel more connected, especially if you are missing your cultural practices and traditions, is to donate not just to your family, but to charitable organizations in your previous or ancestral homeland. Doing any charitable activity can take you outside of your head for the duration of time and also help you to feel needed and more connected.

Being as compassionate with yourself as you are with others is also a wonderful practice to engage in. Being compassionate means being more forgiving of yourself, taking care of yourself, giving yourself more credit for the person that you are, the good that you do, and the lives that you touch.

And this last suggestion may not have as much scientific support, but it is one of my personal favourites: Watch the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart.

 (Dr. Adisa Azubuike is a Toronto- based registered psychologist specializing in the treatment of depression, anxiety, anger, and trauma in children, adolescents, and adults.)