As the holidays approach, a level of enthusiasm, anticipation, and excitement swirl around us. The streets and houses light up with the colors of Christmas. Stores glitter with the wonders of the season to entice shoppers to buy. Family gatherings, parties, and endless holiday treats beckon us to eat, drink, and be merry. And, while the holidays can bring us a sense of joy, it can also be a time of stress, depression, and exhaustion. If you go into the holiday season feeling blue or lose that feeling of bliss somewhere along the way, consider these tips on finding and sustaining your balance and joy during the holidays.
Define what the holidays mean to you.
There is no such thing as an “ideal” or picture-perfect holiday season. Going into the season, take time to evaluate what the holidays mean to you and what you can realistically accomplish.
- Redesign your expectations to focus away “what you have to do” to “what you can and want to do.”
- Embrace what you consider to be the true spirit of the holiday season and make it your priority.
Identify potential sources of stress.
What causes you stress during the holiday season? Do you drive yourself ragged trying to do too much? Do certain family dynamics or family members cause you apprehension? Do you find yourself spending too much money or overindulging in eating and drinking alcohol? Are you struggling with the loss of a loved one or the feeling of being isolated and alone?
- Create a list of those issues that cause you the most stress and start mapping out some possible solutions. What can you do to create and stay within your “holiday” budget? How can you change a “stressful” holiday routine into something less taxing and more enjoyable? In what way can you take “time out” from dealing with difficult family situations or people? How can you stay within a healthy regiment throughout the holiday season?
- Talk to friends and family members about new ways to tackle the holiday stress. Think about solutions such as: a) skipping gifts and donating money to charity; b) making gifts instead of buying them; c) shopping online for the best deals; d) going to a restaurant for your holiday meal; e) doing something unique like traveling or visiting special friends and family over the holidays; or f) factoring in fun ways to exercise even if it is something as simple as walking around the mall to enjoy the holiday decorations.
Establish your holiday expectations and boundaries.
Once you define your holiday values and sources of stress, commit to personal boundaries that will allow you to gain or maintain your holiday spirit.
- Set clear and decisive limits throughout the holiday season so key friends and family members will understand. Communicate your holiday boundaries to these individuals and be willing to do whatever it takes to enforce them.
- Learn to say no and understand that you don’t always need to explain your rationale to others. For the sake of your health and well-being, you can always call “time out” as a viable way to avoid or walk away from an impossible situation or person.
- Understand what you can and cannot control over the holidays and adjust your behavior and attitude accordingly.
- Have faith in yourself. Ultimately, you know what is best for you. And, while you may have to somewhat compromise throughout this process, keep your core boundaries intact.
Maintain good health habits throughout the season.
The holiday season can be a time to overindulge in how we spend, what we do, and how we eat and drink. While your overindulgences may go on for only a month or so out of the year, what you do now can have lasting effects on your health and well-being in the future. Especially during stressful times like the holidays, self-care is essential.
- Exercise regularly: Do some form of exercise every day. Even taking a quick walk to the end of your block or running errands can help.
- Stay on schedule: As much as possible, follow your normal routine during the holidays. This will keep you in check from over eating, losing important sleep, or forgetting to do the important every day activities, including taking your medications, paying bills, etc.
- Get a good night’s sleep: Sleep is critical to your mental and physical well-being. Make sure that you get at least 7 – 8 hours of sleep each night. Avoid staying up late or pulling any all-nighters.
- Maintain a sensible diet: Lots of parties, family gatherings, and tons of holiday treats earmark the holiday season. Join the festivities but pace yourself and be committed to eating within reason. At the end of the holidays, you will thank yourself for keeping your health in check.
- Don’t drink too much alcohol or abuse any other substances: The holiday season can be an open invitation for some people to party hardy. For your health and well-being, don’t be one of these people.
- Take time out for yourself: It is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the holidays. Every day, try to take some “alone” or down time to regroup and reflect. Call it your “mental” mini-vacation.
Reach out to others with goodwill.
In the spirit of the holiday season, consider helping people who are less fortunate than yourself. Think about donating food, clothing and/or money to charity, volunteering at a soup kitchen or a facility for seniors, or supporting a toy drive. Reaching out to support others in need offers priceless benefits to the people you serve as well as to your community. In addition, it can provide you with a sense of accomplishment and purpose that will ultimately add an extra touch of joy to your holiday season.
Given the stress, strains and emotions inherent to the holiday season, be good to yourself. This is not an easy time of the year for many people, so unlock your holiday spirit and share it with others.
Written by: Patricia K. Flanigan, Smart Strategies for Successful Living
Patricia K. Flanigan has worked in higher education for over 28 years. She holds a doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of La Verne as well as a M.A. in Latin American Studies and B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before retiring and moving to Idaho in 2015, she served as the dean of online education and learning resources at Saddleback College, a large community college in Southern California. She currently consults in higher education, volunteers for AARP, writes for a local magazine, and serves as an Affiliate Faculty member at Boise State University and on the Board for LEARN Idaho. Since February 2017, she has been the founding director for Smart Strategies for Successful Living, a community-based website designed to promote quality aging. As an educator, her focus is to inspire others to live and age well.