There is so much pressure this time of year. You are supposed to buy presents, be cheerful and look forward to family gatherings. How many people feel pure joy at the idea of spending time with family, without ambivalence, concern or a glimmer of dread? I don’t know many of them (no offense to my in-laws who I adore and really look forward to spending an entire week together, with our kids, in a 2-bedroom condo. No really, no dread here).
Not only can the holidays be stressful but many of us take a break from engaging in the healthy behaviors that typically help manage that stress. Parties and travel shake up our routines. We often end up eating and drinking too much, exercising too little and taking little alone and downtime because we are surrounded by others. We succumb to spending more money than we should.
While it can be a tough time for many people, for those dealing with underlying mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar and anxiety this can set them up for relapse. Running out of medication, sleeping less and forgetting to take care of yourself can all make you more vulnerable.
So, what can we do this holiday season to increasing the chances of happiness and merriment and decrease the likelihood of exposing an inner grinch?
- Take care of yourself. Just because you are going to parties and gatherings it doesn’t mean that you have to throw all healthy behaviors out the window. Eating a healthy meal prior to going to an event can help you be less tempted to eat foods that make you feel less energetic. Stay consistent with your exercise schedule and sleep patterns (assuming they are healthy ones!)
- Evaluate “obligations.” Just because it is something you have always done or a place you have always gone to doesn’t mean you have to do it this year. It is okay to say no. “No.” can actually be a complete sentence. Consider it part of your preventative health (mental and physical) care plan.
- Spirituality. Focus on the spiritual aspects of the holidays versus the commercial ones. What do you want the holidays to mean?
- Family. There is a lot of pressure (just watch any hour of tv with commercials during this time) to spend time with family, gathered around a lovely table, smiling, and sharing warm memories! Not everyone has those kinds of family experiences and it is okay. Spend time with people you enjoy. Remember that friends can be the family you choose.
- Create your own traditions that work for you! It may be going away during the holidays or spending time volunteering to help others. I know someone who volunteers to provide coverage at the hospital during the holidays. She enjoys being able to help her colleagues who are then very grateful. This gives her a sense of purpose, a way to help patients during this time and an excuse to not have to attend stressful gatherings.
- Just another day. You have 365 opportunities in a year to make a day special and meaningful. Don’t limit yourself by thinking it is only possible during these few in December.
If you have gotten swept up in the commercialism, stress and pressure of the holidays take this moment to do a mental CTRL-ALT-DEL to reboot. Now, what do you want the holidays to REALLY be about?