The holidays, magically coined to be a time of wonder, joy, and togetherness, are actually not-very-merry for many people. Though we generally struggle to manage stress throughout the year, the holidays can intensify underlying issues and painful emotions. The American Psychological Association conducted a study in 2006 and found that while 78% of respondents reported feeling often happy around the holidays, about two-thirds sometimes or often felt stressed and fatigued.
These have been some tough times with the Great Recession. Couple that with higher rates of depression, anxiety and the commonplace reality of the dysfunctional family; the Currier and Ives winter-wonderland fantasy can quickly melt away into a chilly, greyish slush of stress. What can we do when we feel not-very-merry during the holidays? Here are some tips:
- Go back to basics. Stay out of the malls and away from online shopping and create something with your own hands. Cards, cookies, cakes, jam, knit items, seedlings that will grow in the spring…these activities will fire your neurons up and left in your brain, moving away from negative emotions and generating a better feeling outcome.
- Think about others who are struggling and do some small act of charity. Whether it is dropping off a toy for a child in the hospital, dropping a dollar in the Salvation Army kettle, cooking a meal for someone who is sick. Engage in random acts of kindness and remain anonymous.
- Take care of yourself: get exercise, don’t binge on sweets; and most of all, get plenty of sleep.
- Give yourself permission to say “No”. It is okay to be mindful of what you can realistically fit into your schedule and when you need to do nothing but put your feet up and rest.
- Be careful with alcohol use. Even recreational use of alcohol is typically increased during this time of year. Don’t forget that alcohol is a depressant and it interrupts restful sleep patterns.
- Ask for help and delegate. Be conscious of your limitations and don’t sacrifice your well-being to please everyone else. That’s no fun for you or them.
- Know your triggers. If you are spending time with extended family and friends, remember your hot-buttons with those select few who can be trouble-makers. Keep the conversation light and simple and refuse to get drawn into dysfunctional drama.
- Remember the phrase “holy day” as the basis of the word holiday and engage in some form of spiritual practice: meditate, pray, count your blessings (even if on one hand), visit a new house of worship, light candles, hike in nature, listen to music, play games together…whatever resonates for you.
As you move through the holiday season, remember its universal theme on a personal level: envision peace in your inner world and practice good will onto yourself. All the best to you and yours!