Holiday happenings

The holiday season: suggestions to light your way

By Helen Mae Reisner

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Welcome to the holiday season — that whirlwind of gift giving, marketing blitzes, parties and activities that begins right after Halloween, builds to Thanksgiving and continues to gain momentum through the end of the year!

Across the globe, holiday traditions bring celebratory gatherings of loved ones and eating too much. No rest, hibernation and quiet…the calendar is packed with holidays, traditions and…and stress! It’s so predictable!

Since ancient times, the middle of winter has been a season of celebrations with elaborate ceremonies symbolizing renewal, shedding bad habits and negative feelings, while embracing hope amid the long, dark (and, in some places, frigid cold) days.

Winter woes: practical coping tips to manage holiday stress

Guiding principles:

  • Protect your time
  • Manage your mind
  • Give the gift of gratitude
  • Protect your energy

We know the holiday season can bring stress and depression. It’s no wonder! This time of year often comes with a lot of demands — cooking, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few. And if COVID-19 is spreading in your community, you may be worried about your health and the health of your loved ones.

Learn to recognize your holiday stress triggers. This is especially true if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you will find peace and joy.

Raise your resiliency threshold

Become more stress-resilient to help you during the holidays and after:

  • Create awareness of your thoughts and actions. Ask yourself, “Where is this coming from?” Listen to your body. Write it down. Reflect.
  • Focus your attention on the present moment to reduce the mind’s tendency to wander and think about the “what ifs” that often lead to stress.
  • Don’t pass judgment … for at least three minutes. When you delay judgment, you create space for gratitude and may discover that what’s in front of you is good enough or enjoyable as it is.

Keep life in focus. Be realistic. It’s fine to be excited about the holidays and to make plans for the things you want to do, but it’s also important to keep your expectations realistic and reachable. Expecting the holidays to be exactly as imagined opens a person up to automatic disappointment. Create your own traditions. Stay flexible and resilient to better cope with unanticipated changes. Often the holidays are memorable more for the things that didn’t go as planned than the things that did.

Stick to a budget. Before doing your gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Try some gifting alternatives — donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts or consider a family gift exchange, for example.

Keep expectations manageable. Plan. Pace yourself. Organize your time. Make a list (Check it twice!) Set your priorities. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Spread out activities to reduce stress and increase your enjoyment. Learn to say no — all things in moderation. Take shortcuts (try to simplify or do things on a smaller scale, like baking or sending greeting cards).

Holidays change just as people do. Kids grow older, people move, and new people may become part of your life. The key is to focus on those connections, create new traditions and choose a few traditions to hold onto. Remember past holidays with fondness while still enjoying the one right in front of you.

Spend time nurturing your relationships with supportive, caring people. Change your expectations for togetherness. Be aware of your limitations. Reach out and make new friends or contact someone you haven’t heard from in a while. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion.

And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they may be feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.

Do something for someone else. Try volunteering your time to help others.

Each season is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Focus on enjoying the experience and the time you get to spend with your loved ones rather than on achieving a picture-perfect result. Adult children or other relatives can't come to your home? Find new ways to celebrate together via social media and videoconferencing.

Maintain focus on healthy habits

  • Beware emotional eating! Eat a healthy diet. Have a healthy snack before holiday meals so you don’t overindulge on sweets, cheese or drinks.
  • Get plenty of sleep (7-9 hours every day).
  • Exercise for improved mood and concentration (yoga, tai chi, deep-breathing exercises).
  • Avoid excessive tobacco, alcohol and drug use.
  • Be aware of how the information culture can produce undue stress. Adjust the time you spend reading news and social media as works best for you.
  • Get vaccinated (coronavirus and influenza) and stay home if you’re sick.

Take a breather

Plan some time for yourself, without distractions — even 15 minutes may refresh you enough to handle what you need to do. Let others share responsibility for activities. Find something that reduces your stress by clearing your mind. Try mindfulness meditation for well-being and to reducing stress. Just breathe! Take a walk, read a book, listen to soothing music from your favorite music streaming service — they have curated playlists waiting for you — no stress!

Try these mindfulness practices:

  • Accept imperfection.
    • Imperfection is healthy and normal.
  • Don’t lose sight of what really counts.
    • Where does this fit in the grand scheme of things?
    • Can I use this moment of frustration as an opportunity to reflect?
    • Even if this moment seems stressful, can I find a way to make it pleasant?
  • Respond with kindness.
    • You can’t change how others act during the stresses of the holiday season, but you can change how you respond to situations.
  • Rethink your resolutions.
    • Start small. Be kind to yourself.

The holiday season doesn’t banish reasons for feeling sad or lonely

There is room for these feelings to be present. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones for other reasons, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season. Some people experience winter doldrums due to diminishing sunlight during late fall and winter, which disrupts the body’s internal clock. These feelings can range from a simple case of the blues to Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD. It usually begins around October’s autumnal equinox and usually ends around the vernal equinox in March. Be willing to seek professional help.

If you're feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, it may help to talk to a friend or family member. Reach out with a text, a call or a video chat if you feel lonely or isolated. Reach out to community, religious or social support organizations for help. Reach out to your doctor or local clinic. Reach out to crisis help lines.: These include the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or the help line for the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration at 800-662-HELP (4357).

This holiday season, rediscover your personal very merry self

Make time for what is most important to you. Whether during the holiday season or in the New Year, each day is an opportunity to be thoughtful about your actions.

USPS Postmaster van illustration.