The holiday season is approaching and it’s likely this year it will look a little bit different than what we are all used to. This time of year is meant to be a time of joy, celebration and for spending time with those we love – something we may not be able to do in the usual way. The festivities also come with high expectations of perfection that many of us struggle to live up to. Feelings of isolation, financial strain or increased family conflict are not uncommon and likely more of us will be having these feelings this year – making for possibly a very stressful time of year.
CMHA Kelowna suggests that some of the best ways to deal with added stress around the holiday season are common sense strategies. The key is to keep things simple, focus on what is important to you and, most importantly, remember to make your mental health a priority.
Tips for Holiday Peace of Mind:
- Plan ahead. If you’re entertaining n your bubble, 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.
- As much as possible, organize and delegate. Rather than leaving holiday preparations to one person – get the whole family to join in! Whether it is gift-wrapping, decorating, baking, or addressing or decorating cards – there is something for every member of your household to take part in!
- Beware of overindulgence. Having a few too many glasses of eggnog or holiday spirits can initially lift your mood but then drop you lower than before. Also, too many sweets will probably make you feel lethargic and tired. Simple things like eating well, exercising regularly and getting a good night’s sleep are ways to maintain holiday peace of mind and the winter blues.
- Stay within budget. Finances can be a source of stress for many people, especially during the holidays, and likely this year more so than others. This year in particular folks are looking for genuine connection. 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. A call, a physically distanced visit, or a note to tell someone how important they are to you can be as touching as, and sometimes more meaningful than, a gift.
- Remember what the holiday season is about for you. This season is really about sharing, loving and time spent with family and loved ones. Now is the time to have a look at your meaningful family traditions and think of creative ways you can still celebrate them. 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 and enjoy the season. Use this time of year to help reframe what is within your control and regain perspective.
- Connection is key. For some, this time of year can be a time for joy, celebration and for spending with loved ones. For others, it can be a time of feeling lonely and isolated – it is important to remember that this time of year is not always merry for everyone. This year in particular, we all understand how feelings of connection and belonging are so strongly tied to our mental health. This time of year is the perfect time to reconnect with your network. Find ways to safely spend time with others. Also, if you know that someone will be alone – invite them to take part. This will help you and them to feel better.
- Remember the weather doesn’t help. Some people get the winter blues each year, and a much smaller number (2-3%) 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. There are free skills and coaching available to help overcome low mood or mild to moderate depression. If you think you need help, during the holiday season or anytime of the year – click here for some resources.
Tips for Coping with Holiday Grief
The holiday season can be especially rough for those of us who’ve lost someone close. 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 extra tips to help you or someone you know get through a potentially hard time:
- Talking about the deceased person is okay. Your stress will only increase if the deceased person’s memory is allowed to become a landmine that everyone tiptoes around.
- Things won’t be the same. It’s normal to feel at odds with yourself and family events when dealing with grief. Try not to hide away, but don’t feel guilty about setting limits on how many events you will attend.
- Don’t let other people’s expectations dictate how your holiday will unfold. If you don’t feel like doing something this holiday season, 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.
- Take care of yourself and seek support. Stress, depression and bodily neglect are not a great mix at any time of the year. Don’t forget to practice self-care and talk to your friends and family about how you feel. Also, many communities offer support groups for people who are grieving. Being around people who know what you’re going through can be very comforting.
- Think about building some new traditions. Remember that it’s okay 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. That said, one of the traditions may include planning a special time to celebrate the memories of the person who died. Some families develop creative rituals like decorating a miniature Christmas tree at the cemetery, donating money to a charity, singing their favorite seasonal song, reciting a special prayer before the evening meal, or even just lighting a candle. Symbolic gestures like these can help families validate their feelings of sadness and overcome the guilt of enjoying special occasions.