Holidays can be times of great joy, celebration, enjoying seasonal foods and beverages, time with those we care about, time away from work or time for vacations and trips. The Holidays can also bring additional stress. There are often more things to do and less time to do them. Our normal routines get disrupted and these changes can affect sleep patterns and contribute to fatigue. The more we try to push through these kinds of stressors the more likely they are to take stronger hold and lead to even more stress and depression. This Holiday season is unlike any other. There are great uncertainties associated with the pandemic not the least of which are concerns about the health and safety of others and ourselves. Family traditions of being together are unsettled and the challenges of how to connect with friends and family are requiring creativity, flexibility, and acceptance.
* Know common signs of distress so that you can help yourself cope better, get support if needed, and help friends and family with their awareness. Common signs that most of us experience are grouchiness, impatience, loss of humor, uneasiness, sleep problems, and trouble concentrating and thinking clearly.
Some stress is normal during holidays. Prevention and awareness are the best remedies for excess holiday distress. Practicing some basic strategies can help enhance the joy of the Holidays. The list that follows are just some suggestions, pick and choose whatever appeals to you.
- If possible, do some planning with family and friends so there is clarity about if and how people will gather with reasonable caution.
- Create a budget so that gifts, whether purchased or created, will not break the bank.
- Plan/schedule to have some time for yourself during the week that is not committed to any other people or activities. This time could include both rest and play. Moderate exercise is a stress reliever and is good for us year round. Each of our needs for this ‘self-time’ varies so do what works for you.
- Take time each day to stop and to be present with yourself and life, just as it is. For example, you can take a relaxation breathing break; take 3 to 4 deep breaths and focus on just ‘being’ rather than ‘doing.’
- Give yourself permission to say no to things you don’t want to do or that feel like heavy obligations. Commercialism and consumption are very much a part of our culture and can be over-emphasized during the Holidays. Saying no to these forces and yes to things that bring you better quality of life can make the Holidays more enjoyable. Leaving events before you get tired or limiting the number of activities you could be involved in will give you a sense of control when things can seem out of control.
- Enjoy the special foods and spirits of the season in moderation.
- Prioritize and simplify. Decide what is most important to you and use that awareness to make decisions about how you want to spend your time.
- What are your expectations for the Holidays? Are those realistic? If things don’t go as planned leave room for some self-compassion, ‘a little Holiday spirit’ and acknowledge that you are doing what you can.
- During times of stress we tend to focus on what is not working or what is stressful. Commit to noticing what is working well, what you are enjoying, and what you are grateful for. Give thanks and write a list of things that you are grateful for. Use your list each day to help focus on what is more pleasant and life enhancing. These can be really simple things.
- The Holidays offer the opportunity to pay attention to what is important to us and to practice letting go of what is not.
A final thought for a little forethought: Imagine the Holidays are over and you are reflecting back on the past Holiday season, what would you like to be able to say about your Holidays?
Written by: Mike Kenny, PsyD Behavioral Health Provider at AgeWell