Many people love this time of year. They happily answer questions about their holiday plans. They start with Halloween and keep the party going until New Year’s Day. Every season of the year brings out themed decorations, but nothing compares to Christmas. I know people who put up at least four Christmas trees in their houses – full sized trees! The outside of the house sparkles with lights and lawn ornaments. They love to bake, throw parties, and make the most of the time they can spend with family and friends.
For many people, this time of year is stressful, which can bring on anxiety and depression. Asking them about the holidays brings up difficult emotions. There can be a lot of pressure to visit family that requires traveling. Some people experience loneliness during the holidays; possibly because they are alone or they don’t have family nearby. Others long for the experience of memories from years past. Then there is gift buying – what to buy and trying to spend within your means. Health problems, aging, and a myriad of issues can make this time of year feel more like a hardship than a cause for happiness.
My Holiday Experience
Growing up, most of my extended family lived close by. We had the luxury of spending holidays together. That is no longer the case. A generation has passed. We are scattered across many different states. And as I have mentioned in a past post, my family of origin is fractured beyond repair.
For Thanksgiving, one of my cousins hosts a huge dinner party for forty people that requires renting a tent, heaters, tables, chairs, food warmers and table wares. On Thanksgiving eve, she invites extended family for tortellini dinner. Thanksgiving day includes friends. She starts planning this at the beginning of September. I appreciate such a huge undertaking. She is our tradition maker. We drive over five hours to participate. Our Christmas is very different.
My husband and I usually spend Christmas day alone. We go to a movie and have a quiet dinner. Some time after New Year’s day, our son, daughter-in-law, and this year our new baby granddaughter will fly to Virginia. We live near our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons. They go visit her in-laws for Christmas. And that is okay. It isn’t the day that matters. We wait until all of us can gather together to celebrate. It is gathering together with our children and grandchildren that we love. We are grateful that our son’s family is able to fly here to make this happen, no matter what day that is.
How to Relieve Holiday Stress
Whatever your holidays look like, if they cause you stress, anxiety, loneliness, or depression, there are things you can do that might help.
Part of relieving holiday stress is being willing to let go of expectations; your own and those that might be placed on you by other people. Sometimes you have to do what is best for you. Not every year will be like the last one or like those from years ago. Not everything needs to be perfect. Only take on what you can handle. To avoid becoming overwhelmed and resentful, learn to say no or no thank you. “No” is a complete sentence. Your health and well-being are gifts you can give yourself.
If you are spending holiday time with family, this is the time to set aside any disagreements or problems you might have. For the sake of everyone, find a way to let go of animosity, anger or hurt feelings for one day. I have spent more than one holiday where there was table pounding, yelling, crying and threats made. It is better not to go at all than subject everyone to that kind of behavior. We can’t control how other people behave, but we can choose how we conduct ourselves and how we will respond to other people.
Following my cousin’s example, plan ahead. Don’t wait until the last minute to make decisions about the holidays. If you are planning to travel or hosting a party, planning ahead can save you from unnecessary anxiety that rushing to take care of last minute details can cause. Buy airline tickets, make meal plans, and arrange where you or your guests will be staying well in advance. We do not have a lot of extra space. Guests know that when they come to my house, they will be sleeping on the sofa or an air mattress. Knowing that ahead of time gives them the option to make hotel reservations if that makes them more comfortable. Only my mother gets my bed.
Don’t over-extend yourself financially. When it comes to buying gifts, we set a budget and stick to it. We do not create debt. Debt creates stress. When we were newly married and relatively poor, we made gifts. Not all of them were fantastic, but we did our best and tried to be creative. I had an aunt who knitted slippers for everyone every year. I have a friend who gives baked goods to everyone except children. Do not feel guilt or shame because you cannot buy extravegant gifts. You do not have to give gifts that are equal in value to those you might receive – or at all if you choose. You do not have to buy into the commercialism that this time of year forces upon us. I’ve seen ads that suggest giving a family member a brand new car or truck. That is not realistic for most people.
If you know you are going to be alone and that makes you feel lonely or depressed, there are several possibilities. Reach out to friends or co-workers. Let people know that you don’t have someone to be with for the holiday. Or if you know other people who are in the same situation, host a dinner party or pot luck. They might be grateful to have some place to go and to know you are thinking of them. If neither of those are possible, go volunteer somewhere. Helping others is one of the best ways to improve your mood. While you are at it, you might make some new friends. Consider going to events hosted by church or community organizations. With today’s technology, most people can spend time together via their phones, tablets or laptops.
Feel your feelings. It isn’t healthy to deny them or pretend you are happy when you are not. If you are not able to deal with how you feel, there are medical and mental health professionals that can help you work through that. Talk to your doctor or a psychiatrist for medical problems. Going to see a psychologist, therapist or counselor might help you find solutions you haven’t thought of on your own. From personal experience, I can tell you that sometimes it helps to talk to someone whose job it is to listen, who can be completely objective, who can give you tools to help you cope, and when necessary, help you see things from a different perspective.
Speaking of perspective, try to have a positive attitude. Complaining doesn’t change anything and it usually makes everyone around you miserable. If someone annoys you, consider where they’re coming from. Their motivation might be good, even if they are way off. Maybe they are struggling. Ask questions. Maybe you can encourage someone else. Find the silver lining in every situation. It’s almost always there.
Eat healthy and don’t drink too much alcohol. I’m not saying to avoid the pie. However; sugar, salty snacks, and comfort foods are not good mood elevators. In fact, they might make you feel worse. It is always a good idea to exercise some moderation. To be cliche, healthy body – healthy mind.
Need a break from the party. I usually have an escape plan. Even in the midst of many people, I can usually find a chair where I can sit in peace for as long as I need to. Don’t laugh, but the bathroom is one place you can be alone for a few minutes. Maybe it means going home early. If I’m at home, I can excuse myself and go find a quiet space to rest for a few minutes. Whether away or at home, I find a short walk does wonders to revive me. While you’re at it, listen to some music or a funny podcast you’ve downloaded for the occasion. Take some deep breaths. It really helps.
Be kind and thoughtful to other people. Be complimentary. In other words, treat others the way you would like to be treated. Small gestures can go a long way to brighten someone else’s day. Hold a door open. Let someone else have that prime parking spot. Smile. Generosity of spirit can make you and those around you feel better.
Resources: Mayo Clinic – Stress Management for the Holidays: Tips for Coping; Psychology Today – 7 Tips to Relieve Holiday Stress