The holiday season is a time many of us look forward to – sometimes with anticipation and sometimes with dread.
However, the typical holiday pressures of more decisions, more cooking and cleaning, more decorating and entertaining mean less time to look after our own health and well-being. Peace on Earth may seem impossible if folks don’t have peace of mind.
The Canadian Mental Health Association’s British Columbia Division (CMHA) suggests some of the best ways to deal with added stress around the holiday season are common sense strategies.
Holiday peace of mind tips
If you’re entertaining, use the “keep it simple” strategy. Try menus you can make ahead of time or at least partially prepare and freeze. Decorate, cook, shop, or do whatever’s on your list in advance, and then relax and enjoy visiting friends, relatives and co-workers.
• As much as possible, organize and delegate. In many families, moms do most of the holiday preparations. Have a “family meeting” and make a commitment to care about mom’s mental health and share tasks. Rather than one person cooking the whole family meal, ask different family members or friends to bring a dish. If it’s hard to choose between activities, rotate outings every two or three years.
• Having a few too many glasses of egg nog can dampen your holiday spirit since alcohol is a depressant. Too much fruitcake and too little exercise will probably make you feel lethargic, tired, and guilty come Boxing Day. Exercising as a family to work out excess energy and stress is a great activity to schedule during hectic weeks. Get enough sleep to keep you healthy through this busy time of year.
• Finances are still a great stressor for many people. Eliminate the unnecessary, set a budget, and stay within it. A call, a visit or a note to tell someone how important they are to you can be as touching as and more meaningful than a gift. You can also enjoy free activities like walking or driving around to look at holiday decorations, going window shopping without buying, or making your own decorations or presents.
• Whether it’s the usual holiday advertising that creates a picture the holidays are about shiny new toys and gift giving, remember this season is really about sharing, loving and time spent with family and loved ones. Develop your own meaningful family traditions that don’t have to cost a lot of money. Fun or silly things to do, games or movies that make you laugh, playing with pets and time alone or with a partner are all good ways to reduce stress.
• If you only have few family or friends, reach out to neighbours. Find ways to spend the holidays with other people. If you’re part of a family gathering, invite someone you know is alone to your gathering. • Attend diverse cultural events with family and friends. Help out at a local food bank or another community organization. Lend your voice to a cause you care about. Go through closets and donate clothes and toys, or whatever you can afford.
• Try putting family members and partners’ names in a hat and buy one gift for the person you draw; this can help reduce expenses and refocus energies on thoughtfulness, creativity and truly personal gifts. Encourage children to make gifts for friends and relatives, so the focus is on giving rather than buying.
• Some people get the winter blahs each year, and a much smaller number develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Paying attention to nutrition, exercise and sleep and being careful with alcohol are also important if you have a history of depression. If your low mood carries on into the new year and starts to affect your daily life, you should see your family doctor. If you’re not sure if you need to get help, try the self-tests at Heretohelp.bc.ca.
If the holidays often get you down, you may struggle with stress, low mood and worry at other times of year. CMHA offers two effective, low- to no-cost programs where you can develop skills to better manage problems, practice healthy thinking, and build confidence. Living Life to the Full is a fun group course, while Bounce Back can be completed individually with help from a telephone coach. For more information, take a look at www.llttf.ca or www.bouncebackbc.ca.