Is this your season to be anxious?

I posted this to Sunnybrook’s blog site a few years ago with Dr. Sharon Domb, a family physician on the Sunnybrook Academic Family Health Team. And as soon as the holiday tunes start hitting the radio and my holiday plans start getting made, I give it another read.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holiday season and the magic and joy it brings. That said, the season — and it starts earlier and earlier each year it seems — also brings with it some stress.

So if you feel the same, here is some advice on navigating the holidays and when to seek help if you are anxious. And also, a gentle reminder to stop and smell the pine needles.

Question: As the weather changes and the holiday season approaches, I’m feeling kind of anxious. This happens each year (now that I think about it). I just feel kind of wound up and stressed. How do I know what’s a “normal” level of holiday stress or anxiety? Is this something I should talk to my family doctor about?

Dr. Domb’s response: This is a great — and a rather common — question. So first off, remember you are not alone. For many, the holidays bring a lot of joy and excitement but also a lot of pressure, stress and anxiety. So the real question is whether it is “normal” stress, or something more concerning that should be addressed with your doctor.

Potential causes of holiday stress include purchasing gifts, preparing to host holiday gatherings, going to holiday parties, and attending challenging family get-togethers. Some people find the holiday period particularly difficult if they don’t have people to celebrate with, have recently lost loved ones, have recently ended a relationship, or it rekindles unpleasant memories from the past.

So as the season gets underway, try to take care of yourself. Keep a sleep. Continue with your routines — like eating healthy meals at set times and exercising. Set aside some alone time to re-energize. Try to get outside. Also try to make an effort to socialize. If you do not have friends or family nearby, consider participating in a holiday meal at a community centre.

Some signs to watch for:

• Do you have poor sleep or the desire for increased sleep?

• Has your appetite significantly increased or decreased?

• Do you have poor concentration or the inability to enjoy activities that you once previously enjoyed

• Do you have a lack of motivation or a lack of interest in interacting with other people (and therefore social isolation)?

These questions can help determine if your level of stress or anxiety should be of a concern. If you answer “yes” to these questions and it persists for two or more weeks, or your mood is interfering with your work or home life, please make an appointment to speak with your family doctor. If you have thoughts of wanting to harm yourself, call your doctor or a distress line, for example 416-408-HELP (4357) in the GTA. If you are in immediate crisis, call 911.

If you know your increased anxiety is a pattern and it happens every year around the holidays, try to get help in advance. If the stress is coming from a particular family member or specific gathering, consider whether you can limit these activities to decrease your stress, or set up a system to help — take a buddy to the party, for example, or set a time limit for being there.

Happy holidays, readers. Take care of yourselves and each other. And have a safe and happy new year.