The shop windows are bright, houses compete for the biggest display of holiday spirit, and television offers endless images of joyous families. For many people, seeing all this grates on the reality of their existence – family problems, job problems, money problems, health problems, uncertain future, dreary present, or a sad past. When struggling, the rest of the world tends to offer suggestions of “see how happy everyone else is.” The stresses of the holidays hit from all sides – parents faced with the battle between budget and children’s lists, gatherings that evoke old family tensions or create new ones, invitations to parties that do or do not come, schedules that requires a computer to track for events, and the list stretches on. At the same time, external stresses are taking their toll; feelings of isolation or separation from family and loved ones by death, distance or disagreement take their toll. Feelings of failure come from the inability to meet the demands of others or to meet the standard of celebration portrayed as universal in the media. Each person with the holiday blues can feel an extra dose of isolation since it is typically unacknowledged in general conversation.
The “holiday blues” are a significant problem for many people. There are steps that can minimize the depressive symptoms that plague so many people.
Set a budget for gifts – Financial pressure is a major contributor to the blues. Review your budget and set a total amount to be spent on gifts. Include allocated amounts for each person on the list. With this in hand you can shop knowing that you will not be left at the end of the process with names and no money or a credit card debt that adds to existing financial burdens. Be committed to the amounts and shop with creativity. What people admire and appreciate in a gift is the thoughtfulness of it. A homemade gift, an experience such as an outing, or a personalized item that recognizes and celebrates the relationship or history together, transcend the dollar value of the items. Don’t be caught up in the advertising hype that says bigger is better.
Schedule the season – Many people suffer from overscheduling with the pressure, stress and cost that creates. Sit with your significant other(s) and a calendar and block out quiet days, shopping time, and social time. Create a schedule that meets each person’s needs. Many problems arise from the tension between competing invitations – visit one family or the other – that leads to resentment and stress. Negotiate a balance that works for everyone. Once you’ve created a schedule stick to it.
Respect your routine – Routines order our lives and provide a sense of predictability and structure. While you may choose to alter it during the holiday season, pay attention to the events that matter and build in time for those. Special events are wonderful, but a total disruption of your regular schedule can be disturbing as well.
Moderate your indulgences – Few parties are low carb, and bottled water gives way to wine punch. Overindulging in treats, high calorie meals, and alcohol can add to the disruption and upset of the holidays. The social pressure to eat and drink up can make healthy eating and drinking difficult.
Exercise – Take time each day to exercise with attention to being outdoors in the brighter light. The exercise will increase your feelings of wellbeing, and the sunlight has positive effects on your brain chemistry.
Take control of your holiday season, plan, avoid the stress points and seize control over those parts of life that you can. Come January 1st you won’t be making your first New Year’s resolution “I won’t go through another holiday like that!”