By Kiarma Webster, MSW, LCSW
Many of us have a love/hate relationship with the holiday season. We love spending time with family, reconnecting with old friends, eating holiday treats and the expression on the face of our loved ones when we give them the perfect gift. What we hate about the holiday season is long lines, crowded parking lots, time pressures, family conflict and feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes the person who spends late November enthusiastically planning holiday menus and shopping for the perfect ingredients while wearing a Santa hat and humming Christmas carols can transform into a sleep-deprived, agitated Grinch who lacks the energy and motivation to attend the long-awaited New Year's Eve Party. How does this happen? Better yet, how can you avoid becoming that Grinch?
Reflect before you act. Think about what the holidays mean to you. What do you value most about the holiday season? Consider what you enjoy most about the holidays and what you enjoy the least. Focus your time and energy on the activities you value the most. A considerable amount of stress is caused by spending too much time and energy on activities that are not important or enjoyable to you. For example, if one of your core values is helping other people, make sure you spend part of your holiday volunteering.
Make a plan (and stick to it). Make a list of your holiday commitments. Utilize to-do lists. Budget your money and your time, then work within the confines of your budget. Encourage your children to do the same. Try not to over-schedule yourself or your children. It can be tempting to say yes to every holiday invitation, but if you overload your schedule, you won’t enjoy any of it. Also be aware that radical changes in routine can cause stress. Try to stick to your regular schedule as much as possible. Just think . . . the screaming toddler waiting in line to see Santa may be screaming because he missed naptime.
Say “no” sometimes. It’s okay to say “no” during the holidays. Often, it is very necessary. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by trying to make sure everyone around you has a fantastic holiday. If an activity or gift doesn’t fit comfortably into your plans, or budget -- say no. You don’t have to volunteer to help with every chore or feel pressured to host every family holiday dinner. It’s okay to leave the party early or take a store-bought dish to the potluck. (No one will remember anyway!)
Delegate. Make sure everyone around you helps. Even the smallest child can help with holiday planning and preparations. Pay a teenager from your family or neighborhood to help you clean before your holiday guests arrive. Instead of committing to doing all the holiday cooking, suggest a progressive dinner for your extended family. Start at one house for appetizers, move on to another house for soup and salad, then another for the main course, have dessert and coffee at the last house. This can be a lot of fun and a lot less work.
Sleep. Strive to get 8-10 hours of sleep every day. Make sleep a priority. Sleep-deprived people are cranky, less organized, less efficient and have poor problem-solving skills. You (and those around you) will enjoy the holidays more if you are well rested. It will also make your waking hours much more productive.
Manage your stress. Adopt a daily stress management routine. Spend 5-15 minutes a day engaged in a stress management activity. (Listen to relaxing music, enjoy a quiet cup of tea, deep breathing, etc.) The holidays can be a demanding time, and the more demands that are placed upon us, the more important relaxation becomes.
Feeling sad is normal. If you feel sad during the holiday season, don’t feel like there is something wrong with you. Feeling sad is normal. Some of us may miss our loved ones who have passed away. Some of us may remember past holidays as being happier, and that can make us sad. Some of us may feel frustrated, discouraged or sad if family or friends disappoint us during the holidays. Sometimes we expect people to change problem behaviors just because it is the holiday season, and when they don’t we feel let down. Some of us become distracted by what the media says we should be doing during the holidays and feel sad that we aren’t having the experience we believe we should have. If you feel sad during the holidays, reach out for help. Talk to a close friend about your feelings and experiences. Remember, BJC EAP is always available to support and assist you through difficult times.
Employing these strategies can help you have a much better and more enjoyable holiday season.