How to Beat that End-of-Year Stress

imsev009-001It’s that time of year when everything appears to be “holly and jolly,” but it’s not all holly and jolly for some. Many people become stressed in December because of the holidays and everything that comes with it – busy schedules, spending money, finding the perfect gifts, eating unhealthy foods and not getting enough sleep.

Common Stressors

Sondra Wise, a licensed clinical social worker at Mental Health Centers of Central Illinois, said family conflict and finances are two common end-of-year stressors she hears about during the holiday season.

“People feel bad that they cannot afford to buy the gifts they would like for their loved ones, so they end up juggling payments on bills or borrowing money,” she said. “Sadly, that just puts them behind to start the new year and keeps the stress from going away.”

With the end of the year quickly approaching, feelings of stress are increasing for many people.

“There is societal pressure to create ‘Norman Rockwell’ holiday experiences and that sets our expectations so high that no one can possibly live up to them,” Wise said. “This sets people up for stress and disappointment, which is damaging to self-esteem, and eventually may lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.”

Early Warning Signs of Too Much Stress

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling sad
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Muscle stiffness
  • “It is important for people to recognize the warning signs and take action to reduce stress,” Wise said. “Ongoing stress can lead to physical and mental health problems including clinical depression and anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, insomnia, a compromised immune system as well as relationship and work-related problems.”

Tips for Dealing with Stress

Here are some tips Wise shares with patients who are feeling stressed this time of year:

  • Be realistic about your expectations for the holidays.
  • Organize your time with prioritized lists.
  • Consider spreading out holiday activities, rather than pressuring yourself to fit everything into a particular day – celebrate a holiday season, not just one day.
  • Allow your holidays to evolve over the years – tell yourself it is OK to change or establish new traditions as families change due to births and deaths.
  • Take time to relax and enjoy free activities such as window shopping, looking at decorations or playing in the snow.

“Remember to let others help! Don’t try to do everything on your own,” Wise said. “Create opportunities for you to relax and enjoy activities during the holidays.”

If stress becomes too much and you start experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, talk to your primary care provider or a mental health professional. Mental Health Centers of Central Illinois also offers a free online screening to assess emotional well-being. The online screening program is anonymous and asks a series of questions about a person’s mood. After completing the self-assessment, you will receive immediate feedback about your score and information about local resources and articles about mental health and well-being.