Not feeling yourself this holiday season? You’re not alone. For many, this time of year can bring on as much stress as it does joy. We connected with Dr. Tyler Branagan from the CU Medicine Psychiatry - Outpatient Clinic to discuss why the holidays can trigger stress and what we can do about it. “One simple answer for why the holidays can bring on stress is simple - family. It’s the people we don’t choose, but love regardless,” says Dr. Branagan. “Sometimes it’s grief from the empty chair at the table. Sometimes it’s anxiety about the confrontations and conversations we might have with our family members. And sometimes people might be experiencing depression due to seasonal affective disorder that can come along with winter.”
Whatever the reason for feeling stressed during the holidays, Dr. Branagan wants people to know help is always available through a psychologist and through local resources like Colorado Crisis Services.
Dr. Branagan shares some practical holiday stress tips:
1. Have a game plan
A game plan might look like asking yourself, “How am I going to find time to still engage in the things that are important to me?” Activities might look like calling a friend, exercising or finding time to read a book.
2. Start with those you feel most comfortable with
If you’re anticipating some awkward or tough conversations with family, starting with the family and friends you feel most comfortable with might be helpful. Getting comfortable will help to prepare you for those more difficult conversations and interactions. Then when it is time to discuss something serious, find a quiet place to talk so you won’t be interrupted.
3. Connect with a therapist for an outsider's perspective
Therapists can be helpful for creating a game plan because they are an unbiased third party with unique perspective. Discussing your worries and fears with a therapist can help lower stress before the event and gain some valuable insight for how
to deal with the upcoming holiday events.
4. Stay in your exercise routine
Finding time to move your body, especially in times of stress is a great way boost endorphins and your mood. If you already have an exercise routine, be sure to prioritize yourself by staying in your routine. “Finding time to get away, even if it’s a light walk after a heavy meal, might reduce some of the stress you’re feeling in your body,” says Dr. Branagan.
5. Put a pin in it
Having a serious conversation at a holiday gathering can be challenging. Dr. Branagan reminds us that we don’t always have to have that conversation right away with family. When something comes up that you’re not prepared
to discuss, you can always set a boundary by saying something like, “This is really important to me. Let’s put a pin in it until I can devote my full attention to this.”
Dr. Tyler Branagan is a licensed psychologist at CU Medicine. Dr. Branagan’s clinical conditions and treatments include anxiety, attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity, bipolar disorder, depression, panic disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder,
seasonal affective disorder and stress. His current clinical interest for patients is in transplant ethics. Dr. Branagan treats patients at the CU Medicine Psychiatry - Outpatient Clinic.