The holiday season is a time many of us look forward to – sometimes with anticipation, sometimes with dread. Peace on earth may seem impossible if you don’t have peace of mind.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) suggests that some of the best ways to deal with added stress around the holiday season are common sense strategies. “It’s easy to feel overwhelmed during the holiday season,” said Bev Gutray, chief executive officer of CMHA’s B.C. division. “The key is to keep it simple and remember to make your mental health a priority.”
Ten tips for holiday peace of mind
- 1. Plan ahead. 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. Then you can really relax and enjoy visiting friends, relatives and co-workers.
- 2. As much as possible, organize and delegate. Make a list and check it twice. Rather than one person cooking the whole family meal, invite guests to bring a dish. Kids can help with gift-wrapping, decorating, baking, or addressing or decorating cards.
- 3. Beware of overindulgence. Having a few too many glasses of wine can dampen your holiday spirit; alcohol can lift your mood in the short term, but it can then drop your mood lower than before. Also, too many sweets will probably make you feel lethargic, tired and guilty come the next day. Eating well, exercising regularly and getting a good night’s sleep are easy to throw out the window, but attending to these health-promoting strategies can help you to battle stress, the winter blues and even colds!
- 4. Stay within budget. Finances are huge source of stress for many of us. Again, 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. Craigslist and swap events are great places to find inexpensive brand-new items, and excellent-condition used items.
- 5. Remember what the holiday season is about for you and/or your family. Make that goal your priority. Whether it’s the usual holiday advertising that creates a picture that the holidays are about shiny new toys, always-happy families and gift giving, remember that holidays are 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. Also, remember not to take things too seriously. 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. Use this time of year to help regain perspective; watching children can help remind us of the simple things that can bring us joy.
- 6. Invite others. If you have few family or friends, reach out to neighbors. 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.
- 7. Connect with your community. Attend diverse cultural events with family and friends. Help out at a local food bank or another community organization. Give to a charity that helps those in need, or donate on someone else’s behalf.
- 8. Make gift giving easier and less expensive. 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.
- 9. Remember the weather doesn’t help. Some people get the winter blahs each year, and a much smaller number (two-three percent) 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. CMHA offers free skills and coaching to help overcome low mood through the Bounce Back program. To learn more, visit bouncebackbc.ca.
- 10. Learn stress-busting skills you can use year-round. If the holidays often get you down, you may struggle with stress, low mood and worry at other times of year. CMHA’s Living Life to the Full course can help you develop skills to better manage problems, practise healthy thinking and build confidence. To sign up or gift this fun and helpful course to a friend, visit livinglifetothefull.ca. There are also fun and helpful booklets in the Living Life to the Full store to give your loved ones on – or after – the holidays.
Dealing with grief
The holidays can be especially rough for those of us who have recently lost someone close or who lost someone close at this time of the year. With all the messages of family togetherness and joy, the emptiness left behind when someone passes away is in harsh contrast to what society seems to “expect” us to feel. Below are some tips to help you or someone you know get through a potentially hard time.
- Talking about the deceased person is OK. Your stress will only increase if the deceased person’s memory is allowed to become a landmine around which everyone tiptoes.
- Things won’t be the same. It’s normal to feel at odds with yourself and family events when dealing with grief. Do not isolate yourself, but limit involvement when you need to and plan new events.
- Don’t let other people’s expectations dictate how your holiday will unfold. If you don’t feel like doing something, don’t let others force you. If you do want to attend holiday functions, make sure you know your limits. Leave early, arrive late, drive alone – do whatever you need to do to help yourself.
- Seek support. Talk to your friends and family about how you feel. The Jewish community offers support groups for people who are grieving. Being around people who know what you’re going through can be very comforting.
- Plan a special time to celebrate the memories of the person who passed away. Some families develop creative rituals or donate money to a charity. Singing their favorite holiday song, making a favorite recipe, etc. – symbolic gestures like these can help families validate their feelings of sadness and overcome the guilt of enjoying special occasions.
- Take care of yourself. Stress, depression and bodily neglect are not a great mix at any time of the year.
- Think about building some new traditions. Remember that it’s OK not to do what you traditionally do. Planning something totally different is not an insult to the memory of a loved one and can be a positive way to ease some of the pressure.