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Don't Let Stress Spoil Your Holiday

We’ve all seen news stories about holiday depression, but if 2016’s crazy political year taught us anything, it’s don’t believe everything you see or read. The facts about depression around the holidays tell a different story.

An interesting study conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that more than half of media articles written about suicide in December state that suicides peak around the holidays. However, this is merely a long-standing myth. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide rates are actually lowest in the month of December. Statistics from the CDC show that suicide rates peak during the spring and fall and have for many years. So, why does the media believe that the holidays are such a depressing time of year?

There are several reasons that holiday depression is such a compelling story for the media. First, people are more likely to be focused on others during the holidays. Culturally, we’re wired to be more compassionate this time of year—hence all those iconic red kettles and bell-ringers. Even our tax code creates an end-of-year rush of charitable donations. This time of year, we think of other people. It’s only natural that reporters and bloggers think of those that might not be as happy as they are around the holidays. In addition, there are those that feel guilty for feeling great. As a longtime journalist, I can tell you that reporters are trained to look for the story outside of themselves. When they look around a festive newsroom, the good reporters wonder about who isn’t quite so festive. They might think, “What about people that don’t have friends and family? That would be sad.” Typically, the news tends to focus on the other people. When reporters start to ask around, they’ll definitely find sadness to report on—even during the holidays.

So the myth of a peak in suicides around the holidays continues to get passed along. Now that you’ve stretched your mind a bit about how the coverage of suicide during the holidays gets continued, let’s consider another perspective. What if depression does actually peak during the holidays? Wait. Didn’t we just dispel that rumor? Not necessarily.

“It is possible that people who experience depression are just better at handling it during the holiday season,” explains Master Hypnotist Beverly Craddock, of Hawaii Hypnosis Center, in Honolulu. “If we know that the holidays will trigger feelings of frustration, loneliness and loss because of people who have died during the year or because of family stress, then we’re more likely to reach deep inside and use our best coping strategies during the holidays.”

People may also be more likely to avoid expressing sadness around the holidays because they don’t want to negatively impact other people’s experience.

If this is the case, then the long-held myth of depression peaking around the holidays may actually be true, regardless of what suicide statistics show.

“Statistics don’t always give a full picture,” Beverly says. “What we know based on the calls we receive in December is that people are struggling during the holidays, just like they’re struggling at other times of year. Let’s face it, the holidays present some unique situational stressors.”

Beverly suggests that people manage holiday stress through mindfulness and by using situational awareness.

“Mindfulness reminds us to focus on the present,” she explains. “By being in the moment, we can better slow down ruminating thoughts about the past and the future. Hypnosis helps to keep the present… present.”

Situational awareness is merely knowing what’s happening around you. This means knowing what things are likely to trigger sadness, anger or frustration and then avoiding those things. If past holiday celebrations were difficult, then it may be best to avoid those people or environments.

“If your sister-in-law makes you feel bad, there’s nothing wrong with minimizing your time with her,” Beverly explains. “Don’t let the obligation of the holidays outweigh the responsibility you have to take care of yourself.”

The holidays can be stressful and can be depressing for some people. Beverly urges everyone to be responsible for self-care, especially around this time of year.

“If you’re hurting, reach out for help,” she says. “Psychologists can provide help for breakdowns. Hypnosis can provide help in reframing past stressors and with managing anxiousness, stress and self-esteem issues. Massage and yoga can help with relaxation. Even getting a manicure or a spa day can provide short-term self-care that makes the holidays more manageable.”

Randy Hampton is a writer, social scientist, hypnotist and blogger living in Honolulu. 

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