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Handling holiday stress and anxiety: mental health pros say give yourself grace and prioritize yourself

Approximately 62% of people indicate feeling some anxiety or depression over the holidays.
Holiday Fatigue
Posted at 6:00 AM, Dec 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-22 10:56:48-05

CLEVELAND — The holidays are just around the corner.

However, this time of year can be extra tough for so many people.

Whether you just lost a loved one or are dealing with mounting stress and anxiety of being at the dinner table, experts say it can be overwhelming.

But these feelings are normal.

They say to give yourself a moment and prioritize what's most important to you.

Like so many of us, Cleveland Heights native Gabriella Russo is prepping for Christmas with her family, but she admits it’s not always the easiest time of year.

“It’s a little stressful. We usually host it. It’s the only second Christmas without my dad," Russo said.

Losing a loved one can be hard for everyone —so she says she has been taking it day-by-day—and just putting one foot in front of the other.

“Just do what you love while also balancing what you have to do. And yeah, just give yourself grace. The first year is really hard," Russo said.

Dr. Susan Albers, Clinical Psychologist with the Cleveland Clinic, says while this can be a wonderful time of year, it's not always realistically merry and bright for everyone.

Societal pressures can get to all of us, so she says we need to look beyond surface-level things displayed on social media and in Christmas cards.

At the end of the day—remember it's just one day.

"Approximately 62% of individuals indicate feeling some anxiety or depression over the holidays. For many, it is the expectations — we expect to feel happy and bright," Albers said.

Those feelings are common, so she says don't let the to-do lists, shopping for gifts, meeting with family and financial stress get the best of you.

Take a deep breath.

"Mindfulness is one of the perfect antidotes to depression and anxiety. It's centered around the idea of being present and slowing down," Albers said.

She says to focus on what you can change right now and prioritize:

  • Setting boundaries
  • Trying to sleep 7-9 hours a night
  • Avoiding sugary treats
  • Limiting alcohol and caffeine intake

In addition, grief can often mimic depression. If you know someone who recently lost a loved one, offer them support.
"Reach out to them. Give them specific ideas of things that you can do to help. Don't say 'What can I do?' Be specific. Say, 'I'm going to help with your shopping. I'm going to come and help you wrap presents,'" Albers said.

In the meantime, Russo said there is no right or wrong way to handle grief or depression, but it does get better over time — so embrace the little things.

"Be around your loved ones. Have one person you can confide in, maybe even like a code word. I feel like me and my little brother do that," Russo said.

When it comes to those awkward conversations about politics or relationships around the dinner table, Albers said to re-direct the conversation.

Ask a question that opens new dialogue with the group or politely say you need to be excused to grab something.

Most importantly, if you're going through an issue, don't be afraid to ask for help.

Call or text 988 for mental health assistance.