The holidays can bring about a mixture of emotions for many people. For some, taking part in traditions, spending time with family and enjoying the spirit of the holidays can bring a lot of joy. For others, however, it can be a time of stress, anxiety, depression or loneliness. If the thought of the holidays fills you with dread, here are three suggestions to put into action now to help steer your emotional health in the right direction so that you can get the most out of the upcoming season.
The holidays are meant to be a time of joy and wonder, not stress and trepidation. No one is perfect, so avoid expecting the holidays – and you! – to be perfect. Instead, focus on what you are grateful for and what makes the holidays special for you. If you are anxious about a family get together, work to interact with a difficult family member in a non-judgmental and caring way. Try to re-frame your negative thoughts about them to something more positive such as, “I know I feel like my mother is always judging my choices, but I am going to choose to smile, thank her for her advice, and let her know that I am happy with the decisions I am making for myself…and then I will change the subject to something more impersonal.”
Also, take time to be grateful for what you have during this season – health, happiness, time with family and friends, a good job, a strong marriage, etc. To build gratitude within yourself, get outside of yourself by volunteering, donating to a charity, or simply doing a random act of kindness for a stranger.
First, be aware of what is causing you the most stress. Is it getting gifts? Eating too many homemade treats? Spending too much money? Not having enough time to do everything you think you “should” be doing? The way to get control of what feels like an uncontrollable situation is to plan ahead. For example, if you are worried about overeating at holiday parties, have a healthy snack before you go, drink a glass of water, and decide ahead of time to eat only one small plate of food. If gift giving is a source of stress, make a list of people for whom you want to give gifts and decide on a budget. You may even want to consider alternatives to gift giving such as making a homemade gift, donating to a charity in the person’s name, or encouraging your family to draw names so that each person only has one relative for whom to buy a present.
In terms of time, use your calendar to start planning now for what you want to get accomplished – AND be realistic about what you can accomplish! Enlist the help of your immediate family or an outside service in terms of cleaning, buying and preparing food, or taking care of other household chores. Prioritize on what is important for you to focus your time on, and protect that time without guilt. The holidays are meant to be a time of celebration, enjoyment and happiness. Keep in mind that you are in control of how to spend your time, money and energy; being sure to do this during the holiday season is important as well.
Be sure to be “in the moment” as you make your way through the holidays. This means that if you are at a holiday party, focus on talking with the people you like, getting to know someone new, and appreciating the social connections with others. (Note: make others the focus of the party, not the food). If you are preparing a holiday meal, savor the creativity and time you are putting forth to prepare food for others. Take pleasure in bringing out the nice decorations, pretty dishes and holiday glasses. Be mindful of the fact that you have people in your life you can care for and with whom you can spend time.
Out shopping? Be sure to take in the sights and sounds associated with the holidays – the lights, the greenery, the carols, and the ornaments. If you are feeling lonely, discover ways to create moments that you can enjoy. For example, get involved with a civic or religious organization where you can volunteer your time or reach out to a neighbor who may need some help and support over the holidays. Your holidays can be filled with meaning; you have to decide what you can do to make the most of them. Work to keep things in perspective, and realize that focusing on the moments means you won’t miss them and the memories you can be making!
Here at Hilton Head Health, we want to wish each of you much health and happiness for the upcoming holiday season. Our best to you, and please give us a call at 1-800-292-2440 to let us know how we can help you thrive not only through the holidays but well into the upcoming new year. Seasons Greetings!