The holidays are stressful. There are many people who have many wonderful moments within the holidays, and I don’t want to diminish them. However, for a lot of people, the holiday season means family drama, lack of time, lack of money, and exhaustion. No, I am not the Grinch, I love the holidays! I also find myself feeling guilty, resentful and disappointed when I feel stressed. I decided to ask my coworkers what they find stressful about the holidays, because sometimes the greatest gift we can give is the opportunity to vent! Let me tell you, venting they did!
“Family drama” was almost universally mentioned by everyone who shared their holiday stressors. Whether it was missing those who were not present due to distance or death, disagreements between generations or siblings, or long-running feuds, family tensions appeared time and time again as something that can make the holiday season not quite-so-special. The reality of life is that we get stressed and often it is family who takes the brunt of that stress.
Running neck and neck with “family drama,” were “lack of time,” and “lack of funds.” The pressure to find “that perfect gift” left responders dejected, frustrated, and almost immobilized because they felt like what they did was never enough. To make matters worse, “the weather” was noted as the primary element that complicates everything during the holidays.
Based on the reactions of most of my coworkers, what it actually came down to was the expectations of a “perfect holiday,” “perfect family,” or “perfect gifts” were feeding the insecurities, draining the spirt, and exhausting the person before the holidays even began. Holiday stress is very real. What can we do to arm ourselves against the disappointment and drudgery of those great expectations?
Because I don’t like to focus on the negative, I also asked my coworkers what they do for self-care during the holidays and what they suggest for others. Some suggestions for managing your mental health during the holidays include but are not limited to:
Setting Realistic Expectations: This can be done! Some of the suggestions for facing the holidays without those snow filtered glasses include setting boundaries in both socializing and gift giving. “Don’t spread yourself too thin. It’s okay to say no at times.” If you find you self-assessing your accomplishments from the year during the holidays, choose to focus on your positive moments, no matter how big or how small. If you catch yourself thinking about what “should be,” Stop. Take a deep breath. Refocus. Give yourself permission to dwell on those moments that fill your heart.
Get those sunny rays whenever you can: Lots of folks struggle with increased depression in the winter due to lack of sunlight and good old vitamin D. Walking outside can be a good way to center yourself and calm your nerves, despite the frigid temps. If there is a lack of sunlight in your area, exposure to lights, including fluorescent lights, can help you combat the winter-time blues. If you find light is not enough, talk to your doctor about possibly increasing the amount of vitamin D you have in your diet.
Getting back to basics: is another suggestion for coping during the holidays. “Scale back on everything. Spend less, commit less time, …. Manage your output” of time, money and energy. Accept support from others. Set manageable goals for yourself. Set aside time for you to enjoy the quiet, dance around the house or whatever it is that recharges your energy.
Finally, there are some DON’TS for coping.
Don’t Rely on Drugs and Alcohol: It’s tempting to escape the pain of family arguments, feeling insecure, being disappointed by drinking or using but the escape isn’t permanent and can often make the negativity worsen. If there are issues that you want to put aside for the holidays, think about the boundaries you can set. Remember, you can’t control what others are going to do or say but you do have control over what you will engage in and listen to.
Don’t skip therapy: Now is the time to get that support. If you don’t have a therapist, perhaps you can think about starting therapy if you don’t feel you have a support system of friends and/or family to who help when life stresses you out. Along with talking about the things that might be eating away at you, therapy gives you that designated “self” time where the focus is on you and what your needs are, even if only for 50 minutes.
Regardless of which of the holidays means the most to you, remember, how you celebrate is something you can determine to a certain degree. When the chaos of the season becomes loud and busy, look outside and think about the gentle quiet of the snow. You have the right to find that quiet within and around you so you can take a deep breath and remember what is important to you about the season. Everything might not be perfect but there may be moments that are pretty darn close. Sometimes the beauty of a celebration is a series of happy moments which outweigh the heaviness of conflict, depression, disappointment. It’s not always easy but certainly worth a try! Happy Holidays to you, imperfections and all!
Author: Emily Norton, Resource and Crisis Helpline Specialist at Common Ground
Credit: Colleen O’Day for NAMI, from her article “Managing Your Mental Health During the Holidays,” published Dec. 19, 2017.