Holiday Stress Relievers

“Every year it’s the same…….I start getting this sickening feeling in my stomach as Thanksgiving gets closer, then I know Christmas with my mom (dad) (sisters) (kids) (ex-inlaws) – fill in the blank – is coming right around the corner.  I wish I could just go to bed the second week of November and wake up sometime after January 1st!!!”

Are the holidays and all that they entail less than a Hallmark Memory for you?  Do you keep hoping each year somehow it will be different and you will less angry, stressed, or disappointed?  There is a reason why more people tend to make appointments between November and February to see their therapist!

If you want ways to get through the holidays this year without migraines and an aching neck, back or stomach, let me suggest a few things:

1)  Sleep,  This is the one time of the year when you need to allow yourself a few of those “sleep until the alarm goes off”  mornings. Go to bed when you are sleepy instead of pushing to wrap one more gift, bake one more batch of cookies, or make yet another mad dash to the mall.  We know that the effects of enough sleep are nothing short of miraculous for our immune systems, our emotional well-being, our hormone levels, and even our memories!

I was married at Christmas-time ten years ago.  One of the things I determined early in December was that on my wedding day (the 19th), I would not be so exhausted from planning the remake of Charles and Diana’s wedding that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the most memorable day of my life.  As a result, I actually let details go and wasn’t as prepared as I might have been that day — but I was rested and felt unstressed that day and completely enjoyed my wedding day and honeymoon.  I let myself get plenty of sleep the week before my wedding — which meant not working at my office or seeing clients.  It meant not doing extra housework or the usual Christmas errands.  I slept in, went to bed comparatively early that week and was a radiant bride!

This year, determine to let your body rest and nap and sleep when it is crying out for that kind of down time.

2) Another thing that we all know but we have a tough time with: watch food intake — things like the amount of food you eat and when you eat it, sugar or caffeine intake, skipping meals, or drinking a lot more than usual because everyone else is.  When you receive gifts of See’s candy, share it at the office or with your neighbors.  Don’t give up Christmas baking, but take a few dozen cookies to the Safeway checkers, to the dry cleaners you use, or to neighbors as a way of keeping you and your family from too much temptation.  Too much sugar, caffeine or alcohol plays havoc with our mood levels and can leave us unexpectedly depressed and moody a few hours or even days later.

3) Figure out ahead of time what doesn’t work for you at the holidays. If dealing with airport security and baggage check puts you right on the edge, consider taking a train, inviting your family to come to YOU for a change, or having Christmas someplace central for everyone.  There is nothing sacred about doing the holidays exactly the same way each year if it consistently simply doesn’t work and makes everyone crazy.

4) Change locations.  Something that works for a lot of people is doing something outside if weather permits.  Take the younger children to a local park and enjoy the swings and slides and a nice walk and time outside. After a big meal and a lot of noise and time in an enclosed space, getting outdoors often restores a sense of calm to everyone and gives you opportunity to breathe deeply. 

5) Finally, during this time of the year there is a tendency to remember past holidays that were either full of tension, tears and anger — or extremely happy and to mourn that those seemingly easier, more simple times no longer seem to happen in your life and in the life of your family.  Try to focus on each holiday season as though it’s the first one each year.  Sit down now and think of the things you specifically want to do this year to make this season work in positive ways for you.

Some people use this season and the time off from work to go on short term missionary trips; other people take two weeks off from work and use the time to go on short road trips or to explore things in their own city that normally they don’t have time to do.  You might decide this season you want to invite in  a group of married and single friends to bake together one evening— and then,  take the results of your baking to a local shelter and donate your goodies.  One person I know who is single gives herself the special gift at Christmas of going off to a spa for three days and is completely pampered, massaged, rested and makes a few new friends as well.  She always takes a few novels that she saves all year for her special few days of cuddling up and spoiling herself.

So does all this solve the problem of depression over the holidays?  Not necessarily.  But these suggestions can help you be proactive in not sinking into a flood of depressed feelings.  And, if you do find yourself a bit weepy, get out the extra soft kleenex – acknowledge your losses – and then assess the good things that this season makes possible as well.  This is where a journal comes in handy …..I like to take the first day of each new year and recount the highlights of the past year and what my hopes and dreams are for the coming year.