How To Navigate the Holiday Season With Anxiety and Depression

Vanessa Paredes
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From Redbook

Statistics show that over 17 million adults experience depression, and more than 40 million battle anxiety disorder in the United States. For those dealing with either, or both—know that you are not alone. Many times, people suffering from anxiety or depression simply want to stay home and avoid social gatherings, but with the holidays just around the corner, there are tips and tools that can help you navigate and even enjoy the many events with family and friends that pop up on your calendar this time of year.

Pick and choose who you spend time with.

The reality is, you don’t have to attend every single event if you don't want to. The key is choosing to be around people that are supportive, and make you feel good. That could mean your family, or maybe its a group of friends. If your co-workers trigger your anxiety or depression, skip your company's holiday party this year and hang out with your best friend that night instead. Or if your family causes you grief, don’t feel guilty taking a trip with your significant other instead of joining them like you probably feel obligated to do every year. Starting a new tradition can be a great way to break away from routines that might bring up sad memories.

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Get organized.

One way to avoid feeling overwhelmed when your to-do list becomes as long as Santa's list is to sit down and do some planning before the holiday rush hits. Map out a schedule with any upcoming commitments, ensure your travel plans are in order, make note of gifts you still need to shop for, and even work out a rough budget for the items you plan to buy. The stress over logistics, purchases, and calendar conflicts will fall away, and having a plan in hand will empower you to say "no" when you're at risk of over committing yourself.

Eat smart during the holidays.

Indulging in sweets this season may be hurting more than its helping. More and more, we hear from experts and nutritionists about how our gut health is connected to our mental health. Mallory Gonzales, MS, RD, and Head of Nutrition at Kencko explains that decreasing refined sugars is one sure-fire way to improve your gut health. “When consuming foods like sweets or sugary beverages instead of fruits and vegetables, your body isn’t receiving the vitamins and minerals it needs to process and remove certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, and can eventually lead to inflammation which is associated with depression.” She goes on to explain: “This does not mean you always have to skip out on a slice of pumpkin bread from your favorite cafe, it just means fueling your body with complex carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables instead of simple sugars consistently can help your body prepare and process those hormones better, and potentially decreasing symptoms of depression.”

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More water, less caffeine.

I know, this one is hard. But remember triggers? Well caffeinated drinks have been linked to triggering anxiety for a long time. In fact, the more coffee you consume, the more likely you are to experience anxiety or even a panic attack. Caffeine mimics the symptoms we feel when we are anxious, such as increased heart rate and restlessness, so it might be best to limit your intake during the holidays for smoother sailing.

Speaking of drinking...

Limiting the intake of alcohol during the holidays might be a wise choice as well. Alcohol consumption may feel like it's helping with the jitters of social anxiety or the sadness that comes with depressive episodes, but it's actually making things worse in the long term. According to healthline.com, alcohol changes levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain and can negatively affect your mental health. You'll almost always feel more anxious after the alcohol wears off. If you still feel like you need to relax, consider trading in your glass of wine for CBD-infused teas like those from Good Company Tea.

Photo credit: Betsie Van der Meer - Getty Images

Make time to meditate.

Prepare your mind and body for the upcoming holiday stress ahead of time. One easy way to do this is to meditate daily, which studies have proven can help with anxiety and depression. With apps like Headspace and Calm, everyone now has access to top-notch meditation sessions in the palm of their hands. Alexa Curtis, CEO of Life Unfiltered with Alexa, shares tips with her audience about mental health, and insists that practicing mindfulness has made a huge difference in her life. “I've been using Headspace for close to 2 years now and it's completely changed the game for me both as an entrepreneur and in my personal life.” She also explains that consistency is key with these things: “I like to stay consistent with my meditation schedule: it's the first app I pull up on my phone in the morning before I reply to texts or check social media.”

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Don’t forget "me time."

The holidays are all about giving, but that doesn’t mean you are allowed to forget about yourself and your needs. Many of us are doing so much for others during the last few months of the year, but it might be a good idea to step back and ask ourselves “what do I want?” Self care is crucial when you're struggling with mental health, so don’t feel guilty if you spend a little less on others and a little more on yourself, even during the holidays. Don’t have the extra cash to go to some fancy spa? Throw on a K-Beauty face mask, put on your favorite holiday rom-com, and sip on your some hot tea. Taking a personal moment can help you feel more relaxed and prepared to take on the busy season.

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