The holidays are a time full of cheer, happiness and excitement. A time to deck the halls, make merry with friends and family, and celebrate all the joys of the year, right? HA! That’s right, I am HA’ing the holidays. The holiday season designed by advertisers to make us believe that everyone is happy, sipping on eggnog and peering out windows to find new cars with big bows in the driveway, and reaching into stockings to pull out a diamond necklace. You never see an ad with a family fighting over a holiday dinner, or Uncle Charlie stepping outside for a smoke because he just can’t listen to Lynn talk about politics anymore. You don’t see the disappointment of the wife who unwraps her gift, to find another household appliance or membership to the gym, and realizing she’s pretty sure her husband has no idea who she really is.
The reality of the holiday season is that it can be the most stressful season of all. These are the mixed messages we attempt to reconcile; thinking this is the happiest season, but actually feeling anxious, sad and disappointed with the overwhelming obligations and responsibilities we have during this time. It doesn’t make sense in our minds, and therefore can cause even more stress, depression and anxiety. Remember you are not alone. I rarely hear people tell me, they can’t wait to drive 8 hours to see their in-laws who constantly judge their parenting choices; or a friend mention they can’t wait to go to a holiday work party to watch an annoying coworker drink too much. More often, I hear concerns and worries about getting along with extended family, or feeling lonely because there is no one there to celebrate with. It’s a time that requires a lot of emotional energy to manage highs and lows. It can be exhausting and difficult, and we find ourselves looking for ways to cope, like drinking or eating too much. So, this year, be mindful of the dizzying array of emotions that the holiday season brings and take care of yourself. Use these tips to have a less stressful holiday:
Acknowledge your feelings…your real feelings – Many times we put on a happy face even when our internal emotions don’t match the external smile. It’s important to respect what you are feeling inside, and allow that emotion to exist. That doesn’t mean you have to tell your boss what you think of them at the holiday party, but in a safe place allow the anger, frustration or sadness to be there. Try writing those feelings down in a journal, before or after the event. When the words are on paper you can recognize the feelings, and it will bring you relief from having to hide them.
Don’t be afraid to say no – Know your limitations. The demands of the holidays can be tiresome. Every friend, family member, neighbor and employer wants to get together to celebrate. It’s important to take time for yourself, to restore and replenish so you can face everyday responsibilities. If this means saying know to a drink or dinner with someone, they will understand. Reschedule for after the busy season.
Keep your routine – With all the demands it’s easy to forgo daily routines. Exercise, eating well and sleep are all in jeopardy during this time. It’s important to pay attention to all of these. This is what keeps the body and mind strong. It will support you when you are managing the emotions and stresses of the holiday.
Ask for support – If you find yourself struggling through this time ask for help. It’s not unusual for the holiday season to remind us of things that are missing in life. Remember the holiday season also falls during the middle of winter. The days are short and the dark is prevalent. This can cause many people to retreat to their homes. Reach out to friends and family members. Make a point to call a friend and let them know you need someone to talk with. Staying connected is a vital component to our well-being.
Ask for more help – Despite your best efforts, if you are feeling persistently sad or anxious, are unable to sleep or have a general irritable and hopeless feeling, reach out to a counselor. A trained professional can help you through this time. A safe place to share stories, feelings and concerns through this season can relieve aggravating symptoms. Most counselors have online profiles that can give you a better understanding of how they practice. Find a few in your area and pick up the phone. Making the call is the hardest part.
Remember, holidays are hard. Beliefs, expectations, reflections, obligations…everything that can challenge your body and mind is tested during this season. It’s not unusual to feel tired, tense and worn out. Anticipating these feelings and setting boundaries for yourself, along with self-care can minimize the pressure. You may not have a holiday fit for advertising, but you can enjoy yourself without feeling completely overwhelmed.