By Rita Smith, LCSW
Does it seem as if the holidays come faster and start sooner every year?
While many of us are filled with excitement and high expectations for spending time with family, going to parties, and giving gifts to loved ones, there can be a another, less festive side to the season.
The holidays become especially difficult if you are caring for a loved one who is ill or spending the first Christmas or New Year’s alone after a divorce or the loss of a spouse.
In a recent survey, 65% of the respondents described their stress level around the holidays as “very or somewhat” elevated. Much of that stress comes from trying to meet or exceed impossible expectations.
Anyone who has seen the classic comedy National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, with Chevy Chase as the holiday-obsessed husband and father Clark Griswold, has a sense of just how much can go wrong when you try too hard to make the holidays perfect. It’s important to remember that there is no perfect way to celebrate the holidays.
Adjust your expectations, relieve the pressure, and try some of these easy suggestions to cope with holiday stress.
- Make a spending plan. One researcher stated in a 2015 study, that the most frequently reported holiday stressors include the financial concerns, followed by interactions with family, and being unable to maintain positive health habits such as exercise and meditation. When you think through upcoming holiday purchases and celebrations, it is OK to look at your finances and make necessary adjustments to stay within budget. Debts created at holiday times, lead to additional stress in the new year. Be practical and creative with gifting. Don’t give in to the Christmas hype!
- Make appointments for self-care activities in your calendar. Taking time out to exercise, get a massage, nap or read a book is time well-spent, if it helps you stay positive during the holidays.
- Maintain healthy eating habits. Holiday celebrations often invite us to overindulge. Eating that second piece of cheesecake or drinking a couple of eggnogs will add up. Try eating a small amount of protein before going to a party or dinner. Drink water and limit alcohol. Take healthy snacks when you go out shopping, so you won’t be as tempted to eat fast food. Limit sweets and processed foods. Remember this: food and mood are related. Continue to eat as much healthy, lean protein and plant-based food as possible, especially if you are challenged with managing a chronic illness such as diabetes.
- Stay socially engaged. If you are feeling sad because of a loss or disappointment, talk to your doctor, a trusted friend or counselor. There are many groups that provide support for people dealing with divorce, grief, and depression. Don’t isolate yourself from social activity, even if you don’t feel joyful.
- Embrace your faith. Some of the most treasured holiday memories are those spent joining in with others who celebrate and share your faith. Go to special events and services, where reminders of the true meaning of the season are plentiful.
- Volunteer. There are so many people with additional needs at the holiday season. Take a meal to a neighbor, go to a Senior Center and visit the residents, work with a food bank, so at the end of the day you feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment. There’s no better feeling.
- Practice gratefulness. At the end of each day, think of three things for which you are grateful, and write them down. The attitude of gratefulness fosters a calm spirit. For example, I am grateful for all the wonderful holidays experienced, past and present, and that I am loved and appreciated. I’m also grateful for my pre-lit Christmas tree which only takes five minutes to assemble. Have a happy, stress-free holiday!