Guest blogger: Mara Saumell, Director, Mental Health Clinics for The Guidance Center of Westchester
Ahhhh…it is that time of year again. Family, friends, food, the spirit of love and joy, giving for the sake of giving, snow, a warm and cozy fire, hot chocolate, and, of course, PEACE on earth.
Peace, hmmmm??? How many of us feel more bah-humbug than peaceful at holiday time? I know some hands are going up out there, and you need to know that this feeling is common. The holidays can pose a very real challenge to maintaining a sense of peace. Many of us feel overwhelmed with the things that we feel must happen and the notion that we are supposed to be happy at the holidays.
Reminders of the holidays come as early as August. Everyone talks about summer being over and “before you know it’s the holidays.” I had not even put away my bathing suit when I saw holiday decorations at the local mall!
These early reminders can start the anxiety and, once Thanksgiving takes place, there really is no escaping it. You think about the holidays coming, and there’s a lot that has to happen. Your internal dialogue starts humming at full speed: “Who sent me a card that I didn’t send a card to? Who do I get what? Should I buy a gift or gift card? What did I get them last year? Will I cook this year? Who will invite me for a celebration? What will I wear? Oh no, did I offend someone? Do I have the money to do these things? Do I have the time to get this all done?”
Sigh…if worrying about money, and gifts and offending people isn’t enough, we may also be thinking about the loved ones who won’t be with us, either because they don't live close by or have passed away. This, too, can cause feelings of sadness. Some of us may feel that we don’t even want to celebrate the holidays.
The Mayo Clinic has some great suggestions on ways to cope with the stress, anxiety and sadness that the holidays can bring:
- Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.
- Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
- Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can't come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
- Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
- Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Try these alternatives: Donate to a charity in someone's name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.
- Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That'll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
- Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every project or activity. If it's not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
- Don't abandon healthy habits. Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity.
- Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Take a walk at night and stargaze. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
- Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
You can visit the Mayo Clinic's website for more details. The Guidance Center of Westchester also has counselors who can help. Contact us for an appointment 914-613-0705 .