It’s the most wonderful time of year…or is it? The holidays are supposed to be a joyous occasion for all, but many experience stress and depression instead. Why? A number of reasons. Unrealistic expectations, grief over the loss of loved ones, family tensions, improper diet, and less exercise are just a few stressors that increase around the holiday season. Sometimes, holiday stress can’t be avoided, however, you can learn how to manage it and still enjoy the holidays. Here’s what we suggest.
- Set realistic goals. Some of us don’t want to pick up the phone to wish our mothers a Merry Christmas while the rest of us want to do all the holiday things–all the baking things, all the party things, all the greeting card things, all the decorating things. Then there’s those of us who live somewhere in the middle. No matter what end of the spectrum you’re on, setting realistic expectations for yourself and your family is essential to a peaceful season. If you’re a homebody and a loner who only participates in festivities because someone else asked you to, don’t say yes to every occasion. If you’re a ray of holiday sunshine who jumps for joy at every invite, you still shouldn’t say yes to attending every occasion. Sure, we’re supposed to give more of ourselves during the season of giving, but we shouldn’t give so much that we have nothing left to enjoy. Say yes only when it truly fits around yours and your family’s busy schedule.
- Keep up healthy habits like your regular diet and exercise routine, even during Thanksgiving. Sure, you can indulge a little with a small piece of pie or an extra slice of turkey. But don’t forget to go for your evening run and stop yourself from eating more when you start feeling full.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. As families grow, scheduling gatherings becomes harder and harder. If you have conflicting events, don’t stress out over how you’ll make it to both. Instead, pick one to attend and send the hosts of the other event your regrets. If skipping out means you don’t get to see a close relative or friend, schedule a time during the holidays for a one-on-one visit.
- Plan ahead and stick to your schedule. It doesn’t matter if you’re a doer who wants to do too much during the holidays or a loner who wants to do as little as possible, plan your holiday season now. Schedule your shopping trips and baking days and choose what events you will and will not be attending. You’ll feel better prepared and more at ease when you know what lies ahead.
- Take time to breathe. It’s not as silly as it sounds. When busy seasons like the holidays come around, we humans find it hard to schedule oxygen into our daily lives. But taking 5-10 minutes each day to practice breathing exercises is believed by many medical experts to lower anxiety and blood pressure. Locking yourself away in the guest bathroom for a couple of minutes of mindful breathing is especially helpful when that relative who’s particularly difficult to love is trying their best to start an argument at the dinner table.
- Keep your expectations on togetherness in check. Some of us have more than enough relatives to squeeze in for holiday visits while others have little to no family at all and experience deep loneliness during the holidays. Many of us grieve more deeply for deceased loved ones around this time of year, making the holidays especially sad. If you have more relatives than you can possibly see in one holiday, reset your expectation on who will and will not get a visit this year. If the idea of not seeing your family during the holidays is unbearable, consider spending one holiday, like Thanksgiving, with certain relatives and giving your time to other family members during Christmas. This way, you don’t have to rush between places and your time spent is longer and more meaningful. It’s also okay to plan a Thanksgiving dinner on the weekend before or after the actual holiday if its better for your family to get together then. The same goes for planning Christmas gatherings. If togetherness is what’s important, plan your gathering for a time when everyone isn’t rushing from one event to the next. If loneliness is your struggle, take it by the reins and make plans. Plan a Friendsgiving and a Friendsmas if you lack in family but have a few close friends. Consider volunteering at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter or orphanage. Nothing cures loneliness like spending your time giving to those who need our help the most.
Don’t struggle with anxiety, depression or stress alone. Contact EliteCare or your local medical clinic for a referral to a mental health professional or for help with managing your current treatment.