Three Effective Ways to Reduce Stress And Depressed Mood During the Holidays

By: Mark Lakewood

The holiday season is quickly approaching and many of us are preparing for this joyous time of the year. Some may embrace the holidays with cheer, hope, and thanksgiving while others may embrace the season with burden, anxiety, and personal failure. This article addresses three ways you can overcome anxiety and depressed mood during the holidays.

The first and most effective way to avoid anxiety and depressed mood is to recognize unachievable and unrealistic expectations (unhealthy thoughts) that you may subscribe to. Our thoughts have a direct bearing over our emotional disposition and the consequences that occur in the aftermath. We often cannot change circumstances (situations, events, and the behavior of others) that occur in our lives but we do have the power to alter the way we feel and react to them by simply changing the way we think. If we would like to avoid experiencing anxiety and depressed mood during the holidays, we must take ownership and control over our own thoughts by identifying unhealthy thoughts that we may subscribe to that might be contributing to a negative emotional disposition and replace them with healthier ones.

Some may fear social rejection and judgment from others. Though others may choose to judge negatively, pondering on this thought can ultimately rob you of experiencing joy and happiness. The following are six common unachievable and unrealistic expectations (unhealthy thoughts) that are often pondered on during the holidays:

1. "I need to spend a lot of money on gifts otherwise I might be perceived negatively by others" - It is a shame that so much worry is attributed from the issue of money especially during the holidays. We should not feel or be made to feel that the holidays are all about external/physical gifts. The most precious gift that we can give to one another is our fellowship and love (internal gifts). No external/physical gift can replace this. Internal gifts have a longer shelf life and increase our self-esteem more than external/physical gifts. We must keep this issue in the proper perspective otherwise we can inadvertently teach others that external/physical gifts are more precious and desirable than our fellowship and love.

2. "For gatherings, my home must always be clean and tidy otherwise I might be perceived negatively by others" - It is never okay to invite guests to a filthy home. But expecting your home to be constantly tidy might be an unrealistic expectation, especially when children are present. Expecting such would only cause you anxiety and depressed mood. Do not worry about the cleanliness of your home but rather focus on fellowship as this is much more important and significant.

3. "I must prepare a flawless meal for my gathering otherwise I might be perceived negatively by others" - The quality of meals should not be the main focus of the holidays. If food preparation is an issue, there is nothing wrong with purchasing meals from a restaurant. To go one step further, having a potluck might be a better and less expensive idea as your guests would be directly involved with the food preparation by offering a variety of foods at your gathering freeing up time for fellowship.

4. "My physical appearance must be acceptable and appropriate otherwise I might be perceived negatively by others" - Aside from daily hygiene, do not worry about your physical appearance. The fellowship that you can give to one another is much more important than your physical appearance. More times than not, our own anxiety over our physical appearance has more to do with how we feel about ourselves rather than how others may perceive us.

5. "I need to bring a mate to the gathering otherwise I might be perceived negatively by others" - If you are single, sometimes attending a gathering by yourself where couples are present might make you feel uncomfortable as you might feel that you do not fit in. Keep in mind that you are not alone as there are many people that are divorced, separated, or single. If having a mate was a prerequisite for gatherings, I guarantee you that there would be a lot less gatherings! In addition, avoiding gatherings would only rob you of the experience of possibly meeting a potential mate.

6. "I need to pretend that I am happy during gatherings otherwise I might be perceived negatively by others" - Experiencing happiness is not a prerequisite for attending gatherings. Oftentimes, life events and experiences that have nothing to do with the holidays may play a direct role in your emotional disposition. The wonderful thing about gatherings is that there are plenty of people that you can talk with. If someone asks you how you are doing or feeling, be honest with them and let them know. Do not tell them that everything is fine when it is not. Oftentimes, having someone to discuss your problems with might actually help you resolve them as well as make you feel better. Take advantage of this opportunity.

If there are any other unhealthy thoughts that you might be dealing with that are not discussed in this article, I encourage you to write those thoughts down on a piece of paper writing a healthier thought (one that you would like to subscribe to) next to it. It would also be a good idea for you to review these thoughts daily so that it becomes easier to recognize and replace unhealthy thoughts.

The second way to avoid anxiety and depressed mood is to establish personal and professional goals for yourself. There is a lot to be said for New Year's resolutions. Establishing short and long-term goals is a healthy idea because they can provide you with structure by giving you something to look forward to. Goals oftentimes give meaning to our lives. Those who do not have goals often feel hopeless and helpless. Just make sure that the goals that you establish are significant and achievable otherwise they will not be effective or worth your while to achieve.

And finally, the third way to avoid anxiety and depressed mood is to work at giving to others. Sometimes we are fooled into believing that happiness is achieved through the gifts that we receive or the items that we purchase. Just the opposite is true. You can achieve true happiness by helping others in need, volunteering your services, holding the hand of one in despair, or just simply being there when one experiences a low moment in his/her life. Oftentimes, it is not the words that we say that lifts one's spirit or gives one hope. But rather, it is just being there that makes all the difference in the world. At times, we feel uncomfortable because we do not know the right words to say to those who are hurting. Words are not always important. The fellowship and the love that you can provide is what the holidays are all about. Let's not lose this perspective and let's not give unhealthy thoughts, with all the anxiety and depressed mood that goes along with them, the ability to rob us from experiencing the joy and the happiness that we all deserve to experience during the holidays. Happy holidays to all!

About the Author:

Mark Lakewood, CEO of Building Strong Families National Seminars,, is a distinguished bullying prevention expert, author, and speaker with over 20 years of clinical experience as a family therapist. Mr. Lakewood facilitates seminars on family and school-related issues. He facilitates the "Standing Up To Bullying" Conference, and the Sudden Compliance Program Webinar Series,

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