by Susan Neuhalfen
There are no two ways about it – the holidays cause stress for all of us in one form or another. In addition to our already overwhelming day-to-day lives, we have to do the holiday balancing act, scheduling parties and events, buying food and gifts and still managing the everyday things that are already enough to fill our days.
Signs that you have reached your limit this holiday season may include muscle tension, headaches, fatigue and depression. Jessica Burrows, MA, LPC, CFLE and Clinic Director of NextGen Counseling says “the first key to getting a grip on the holidays is to ask yourself why you are stressed”.
“Everyone’s situation is different,” said Burrows. “Sometimes it’s family stress, sometimes it’s social stress and sometimes it’s something completely different.”
Burrows says it’s best to start by asking yourself why you are stressed. Write down everything that is causing the stress in a list. Oftentimes, we get flooded because we’re thinking about everything at the same time and it becomes overwhelming. Breaking it down one issue at a time helps us to solve each on its own and take some of the stress away.
Once you have the list, write down the actions you need to take to work through them. Then simply address them and mark them off. Don’t multi-task your problems.
According to Burrows, the biggest complaint she hears during the holiday season is about family. Though many see family on a daily or weekly basis, there are other family members that aren’t regularly seen, except during the holidays. In addition, blending families is also a challenge, especially after divorce or loss.
“Usually we tuck our family drama under the rug because we don’t see these relatives and we can avoid it,” said Burrows. “You have to address these problems in order to get through the holidays.“
For many, the holidays also stir up painful memories of loss. Though loss affects us all year around, during the holidays it seems especially difficult. Whether it is due to death, divorce, or estrangement, we must be cognizant that others are suffering.
“You have to remember that though the holidays are a joyful time for many, for some they simply aren’t,” said Burrows. “We have to be sympathetic to that with others.”
There are also the financial and social pressures of gifts, food, entertaining, decorations, eating out and more. Sometimes we get so caught up in the details, we forget what the season is really about.
Stick with the Staples
“First things first, keep it simple,” said Burrows.
People go over the top for the holidays causing extra stress. Food, presents and decorations can all be simplified without unnecessary extravagance. Getting caught up in the holiday spirit can cause emotional decisions. Keep it simple. This isn’t a contest.
Budget & Plan
Budget for your food and remember that the basics are great for everyone. Make a list now and watch the circulars for coupons and sales. Do a trial run on the table to make sure you have enough serving plates, utensils and hot pads.Budget for your presents. Again, this isn’t a competition. Keep it simple but memorable.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Having everyone bring a dish not only takes stress off you, it gives your guests an opportunity to introduce new dishes to the meal. Kids also love to be needed and try new things (especially younger ones). Come together as a family and work together. Have a wrapping party with your spouse – kind of like a date night. Also, have someone come in and clean (even if it’s just this one time) to help you prepare for your guests.
One solution to family issues, according to Burrows, is to come up with new traditions. Trying something new cannot only break the ice with family members, but it keeps others from “pining” for the old.
Here’s an example: instead of watching movies or television, try playing a board game or dominoes or even a card game. Make sure that the game is inclusive and it’s something that appeals to everyone. Even if someone isn’t participating as a player, it’s fun to watch the other players’ reactions. It’s a great way to have “face time” with one another and create some great memories.
Take Time for Yourself
Take a deep breath and make sure you take care of yourself. If you’re not feeling your best, you’re already behind the eight ball when you get stressed. Exercise, mani-pedis and getting plenty of sleep go a long way to helping you feel better. Finally, treat yourself but watch your diet. Don’t go crazy.
Burrows said that one thing that she urges her patients to do is to embrace the moment and use their senses. The smells, the sights, the conversations and singing—all of the things that make up the holidays—take them in and make the most of the memories.
“Savor the moment,” said Burrows. “ You’ll never get this time back, so make the most of it. “
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