Keeping Yourself Sane During the Holidays
Depression Is Common at This Time of Year
Such a happy, joyous season! The kids are on winter break, people may be going on vacation to see loved ones, festive parties and feasts abound—what's there to be sad about?
Put the brakes on for a moment here. The plain fact of the matter is that the entire winter season is troublesome for many people. There are actually studies that show a spike in deaths over the winter holidays. The phenomenon is still being researched, but theories abound and include such things as reluctance to seek emergency medical care during a holiday, to short staffing at some hospitals.
For those who have previously lost a loved one during this time, each year becomes a sad reminder of the missing person. That never goes away.
In the Northern Hemisphere, there is also the impact of the weather and the short days, which can be gloomy and stormy instead of sunny. However, the studies on spikes in deaths have also been found to hold true in the Southern Hemisphere where the weather is warm and sunny at that time of year.
Live in the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life.— Nhat Hanh
It does not help that the media is chock-full of advertising portraying happy, happy families all together: a miraculous "Leave It to Beaver" unrealistic family picture, where the kids never grumble or balk at requests, complete with sappy songs playing in the background. One of the worst offenders in this category, in this author's opinion, is “There's No Place Like Home For the Holidays.” It claims, “If you want to be happy in a million ways, for the holidays there's no place like home sweet home.”
Well, not so fast! Some families are lucky to have a wonderful, loving bond with all their members. Unfortunately, this tends to be not as common as we would like. Dysfunctional families are more the norm than not these days.
Between fractious fathers; bawling babies; arguing aunties; conniving cousins; naughty nieces and nephews; manipulating mothers; unbearable uncles; and garrulous grandparents, spending time with family for some people can spell misery.
Retailers don't help at all by rushing the season and putting out holiday-themed merchandise as early as October in some areas. Personally, I find this both ridiculous and offensive. My solution is to avoid the stores other than for groceries as much as possible until after the new year. One of my daughters was born in late November; it used to tick me off no end that my purchase of her birthday gift got counted in their “Christmas sales” tallies.
Now, I don't worry about it. I either purchase her gift earlier or give her something handmade. And if I miss and end up buying it during the holiday sales push, I don't waste my energy anymore by getting upset.
It can also be stressful if you are on a limited budget, and can't afford to shop. Again, the media advertising people gifting extravagant things such as luxury vehicles surely puts a sour spin on one's mood. Who does that, anyway? Precious few, I'll bet; the top wealthy 1 percentile, maybe. But everyman? No way.
When it rains, look for rainbows. When it's dark, look for stars.— Anon.
Keep Yourself Protected
Here are some tips to help you through what can be a difficult time:
- If you don't feel well, speak up, and seek help if you feel you are having a serious illness coming on, remember: heart attacks can masquerade as indigestion in some people.
- Don't feel obligated to attend every single party or holiday function. It's okay to "just say no," and indulge in some self-care during this time. Make time for you!
- Monitor your mood and avoid things (such as sappy songs or sad songs) that make you feel blue. Listen instead to happy, upbeat songs. If you have any religious beliefs, listen to songs that give you hope. If you aren't religious, listen to funny, silly songs instead.
- Avoid groups of people at parties who are discussing controversial topics. This only adds stress, as there is almost invariably an argument going on. Feel free to walk away and excuse yourself from such conversations.
- If you do find yourself feeling blue, then consciously do something that will provide the opposite feeling. Whether it is taking a bubble bath, going for a walk, or curling up with a good (happy) book and mug of hot chocolate, 'just do it.'
- Don't try to take on too many projects. You are not super-human and you shouldn't try to be. No one should expect that of you, either. I'm generally not a fan of “shoulds” and “should-nots,” but this is the exception. Don't overextend yourself. You only end up fatigued, frustrated, unhappy, and could end up depleting your immune system and falling ill. It's not worth it!
- Don't take on extra stress by having conniption fits over how others express holiday sentiments. It's not a big deal. There are many different kinds of celebrations during the winter. Christmas does not have a corner on the market. People also celebrate Hanukkah, Yule/Solstice, Kwanzaa, and several others. Some don't celebrate anything at all. So if someone out in public says “Happy Holidays,” don't get your panties in a bunch; people are not mind readers and cannot know your particular celebration. “Happy Holidays” covers them all, with favor to and prejudice against none.
Self care is how you take your power back.— Anon.
Don't Beat Yourself Up
If you do find that you have gotten a case of the weepies and can't seem to pull yourself free, don't add to the stress by telling yourself you “shouldn't” feel that way. There is no blame to be laid; give yourself permission to have a good cry, if need be. It can be very therapeutic.
If you need to bow out and spend time alone, do it. Society won't fall apart because you didn't participate in holiday celebrations. Family will get over it. If they don't, then ask yourself if you need that kind of stress and pressure in your life. My guess is you don't. Cutting off family can seem especially hard, but in some extreme cases, it's the only solution.
I'm not suggesting you isolate yourself, either. Merely make smart choices about those with whom you spend your time. Make sure those people fit your style and are not just “obligatory” visits.
Mind you, I'm neither a doctor nor a mental health professional. I am just a person who has been through a good deal of this, and I'm sharing what has worked for me, as well as what I've learned in a stress management group I attend on a regular basis. If you feel like you really are "cracking up" over the holidays, please, consult your doctor.
Sometimes it's okay if the only thing you did today was breathe.— Anon.
Count Your Lucky Stars
Sitting down with pencil and paper, if need be, and listing the things for which you are grateful and happy can be a good mood-booster. Sure, things may be tough, but there's always some sliver of hope or good fortune somewhere in the mix.
And remember: it only comes once a year, and it's done and over with. Find your piece of peace, and enjoy what you can of the holidays. Blow off anything that you find upsetting.
The struggle begins to end when gratitude begins.— Neale Donald Walsh
© 2018 Liz Elias