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Holiday Season Survival 101

Don’t let stress get you down this holiday season.  With all of the people, parties, cleaning, prepping and high expectations, it’s no wonder that this time of year can be overwhelming. But with some planning and small changes, you can minimize stress and set yourself up for the best holiday season possible!

  1. Acknowledge your feelings.If you have lost someone or can’t be with loved ones, realize it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s okay to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
  2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events, such as listening to carollers or looking at Christmas lights. Persons there can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is also a good way to lift your spirits, broaden your friendships and help give someone else a Happy Holiday!
  3. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.For example, if someone can’t come over, find new ways to celebrate together, like sharing pictures, emails or videos. Not everything is going to go as planned, some things are out of our control – mishaps are opportunities to show flexibility and resilience and create memories!
  4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside past arguments until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something doesn’t go quite right. They may be feeling the holiday stress too. And if some people tend to let you down or push your buttons, prepare yourself, you know what to expect, and have an exit strategy planned in case if you need to take a breather.
  5. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Remember, the holidays are not about the presents, they’re about your presence so be realistic in your endeavours.  Try these alternatives:Donate to a charity in someone’s name.
    • Give homemade gifts.
    • Start a family gift exchange.
  6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients or trying to fit all visits in at the last minute. And make sure to line up help for party prep and clean-up.
  7. Learn to say No. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Plan enough time for activities and delegate where possible.  Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or event. If you choose to do less you will have more energy to enjoy the activities that you have deemed most important. This rule also goes for food, drink and anything else that it is easy to overindulge in during the holiday season.
  8. Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Also, keep in mind the impact that sweets, rich foods and alcohol can have on our mood.  Try these suggestions:
    • Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Incorporate regular physical activity into each day, even if it’s just a walk for a few minutes.
  9. Take a break. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring your inner calm. Some options may include:
    • Taking a walk on the beach or at night and trying stargazing.
    • Listening to soothing music.
    • Getting a massage.
    • Reading a book.
  10. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, or unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Help is available close by.

These are some ideas to help keep a handle on things this holiday season.  When things seem overwhelming, remember the reason for the season – slow down and enjoy the time that you have. And in preparing to return to the daily grind…. Plan a rest day to help you shift gears and refocus in the New Year!

Article developed for Cayman Islands Youth Services Unit December 2014 by Dr. Alexandra Bodden.

References:

  1. Mayo Clinic. (2014). Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping. From http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544
  2. Smith, B. (2011). 10 Tools for Dealing with Holiday Stress and Depression. From http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-fitness/201112/10-tools-dealing-holiday-stress-and-depression
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