By: Lisa D. Braverman, PhD
The holiday season is filled with contradictions. It can be the most wonderful time of the year spent with family and friends, but also bring stress with additional demands on our time, finances and emotions.
Beginning in mid-November and continuing through the first of new year, there is a predictable beginning and end to the holiday season. With a little planning, we can anticipate stressors and create our own map for navigating happier holidays.
Take some time and reflect back on the past few holiday seasons: Recall which experiences were more joyful and which were more difficult to manage. With a little planning you can increase your time in joyful activities and prepare strategies to manage the difficult ones. Knowing what is important to you can help make the season more relaxing and enjoyable.
It may be as simple as setting price limits on gifts, sharing the cost of get-togethers, reducing time with difficult family members or planning for situations which challenge healthy eating behaviors. Prioritizing your health (sleep, diet, exercise) and being realistic about finances can help to reduce stress and post-holiday regret.
Manage your expectations of time together with family and friends: Family gatherings can throw us into old patterns and behaviors. We may be reminded of previous hurt feelings or disappointment and miss family members or traditions of the past. We may find ourselves responding in ways we normally would not do.
Being aware of the hot spots and reacting differently can help change the old patterns. If difficult topics come up (i.e. politics, or conflict in the family), shift the focus and redirect to a memory about a positive time spent together or an upcoming event. Taking a break, playing games or building puzzles together or going outside for a family walk can ease the tension and create new traditions. A 3-day weekend may be more enjoyable than a 5-day trip.
For those who find themselves lonely during this season, open yourself up to new connections. Invite a few friends over to spend time during the holidays, or consider volunteering to help others in need. This is a great way to be with people and to honor the spirit of this season.
Take care of yourself: Stress decreases our ability to cope and has a negative impact on our physical health and mental wellbeing. Healthful behaviors help to reduce stress and increase our ability to cope.
Exercise stimulates our bodies to release “feel good” hormones and is the single best behavior to manage stress. Adequate sleep allows our body and mind to recharge and is associated with a reduced risk of developing serious health conditions. Healthful eating can help provide energy and improve mood. Relaxation strategies such as mediation, yoga, guided imagery or even a warm bath can generate a relaxation response and reduce stress. Recovery time is also very helpful. Don’t schedule every free moment.
Cultivate gratitude: During the holiday season we are bombarded with messages that promote unrealistic expectations and lead to stress and disappointment. Cultivating gratitude has been found to reduce stress, improve sleep and increase overall physical and mental wellbeing. By beginning and ending each day noting three things for which you are grateful, your focus becomes ”what you have” rather than “what you don’t”. This is a great time of year to build daily gratitude into your life. When all the presents have been unwrapped, the food has been consumed and the frenzy is over, may all of us be left with the real meaning of the holidays: recognizing the people we love, the connections we have with each other and a sense of gratitude for all that is ours.
I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season.