It’s almost the Thanksgiving holiday, a time for gratitude and reminiscence about holidays past, but my memories of Thanksgiving mostly involve my angst-ridden mother bustling about while the rest of the family watched the Macy’s parade and played cards. She used to do this predictable “thing” whenever I would indicate frailty, especially during the holidays. If I said, “I’m tired,” she said, “You’re tired. I slept three hours last night worrying about how I would seat everyone at dinner tonight.” I could not top her ever-escalating descriptions of exhaustion, aches and pains, and dwindling finances (you’ve spent a lot of money). Looking back on it now, my mother was probably experiencing undiagnosed holiday anxiety. Perhaps she was looking for someone to appreciate how much of the responsibility for festive splendor fell on her stooped shoulders.
Women and Holiday Anxiety
These days I work for Sanford Behavioral Health, and I am more empathetic to my late mother’s passive-aggressive cry for help. The holidays are supposed to be fun and festive. But women disproportionately feel stress around the holidays because (whether they work outside the home or not) women still shoulder greater family responsibilities. During the holidays, women are more likely than men to report increased stress. Nearly half of all women in the United States report higher stress levels during the holidays. Correspondingly, a third of men say the same.
Why do women have holiday anxiety?
- Women are charged with the task of keeping traditions which increases holiday anxiety.
- Social media gives us a skewed perspective on the lives of others (see header photo above).
- Holiday tasks are added to regular daily work, whether in an office or the home.
- Worries about spending might impact sleep patterns, worsening anxiety.
- With the coming of a long winter, ’tis the time for seasonal affective disorder and depression.
- Added stress and anxiety may prompt women to drink more or misuse prescription medications.
- Recovery from addiction or an eating disorder can be challenging with family gatherings and parties.
“Alcohol is a natural choice to self-medicate depression or anxiety. Alcohol is an alarmingly effective way to lessen stress and anxiety in the short run. However, self-medication with alcohol can cause addiction, and alcohol addiction can cause depression and anxiety. It’s a vicious circle; they are related, but one worsens the other.” Sanford Behavioral Health Chief Medical Officer Gilbert Masterson, MD
Tips for Managing Holiday Stress
First, forget perfection. The need to create a Hallmark card experience with the perpetual smell of gingerbread and a dusting of snow is not tenable. Especially in 2023, when most of us are already experiencing mental health concerns. Women have been socialized to think about others first, but it is time for self-compassion and self-care.
- Set Boundaries – It’s okay to say “no thank you” or arrive and leave early for an event.
- Take Time to Unwind – Give yourself the gift of 15-minute mindful meditation sessions or quiet time.
- Reach Out – Stay connected with far-flung loved ones and spend your precious time with people who bring you happiness and joy!
- Connect Virtually – If you are alone for the holidays, utilize a virtual option to connect with family, a therapist, or a recovery group.
- Limit Social Media Use – Spend quality time with family and friends. If you are in recovery, go to a 12-step meeting or call a sober friend.
- Volunteer – Get outside of your head and do for others.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help – And not just with the dishes! If you feel anxious, depressed, or stressed, seek professional help. If you do not have a relationship with a therapist, talk to a trusted loved one or your spiritual advisor, or pick up the phone and call 616.202.3326.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, eating disorders, or co-occurring mental health conditions, don’t wait to change your life – click the link and get in touch today.