First and foremost, we have to remember that the holidays are supposed to be fun. Don’t you remember what it was like waiting for Christmas as a kid? I can recall excitedly watching the houses all put up Christmas decorations and counting reindeer lights whenever we drove anywhere. I never worried about the crowds at shopping malls or the long list of people to buy presents for because the mall at Christmas meant photos with Santa and incredible Christmas displays in the stores and so many toys in the aisles! At parties I would get to eat all my favorite foods and as much of it as I wanted. I played games, got presents from relatives, and whenever I didn’t feel like partying anymore I could just go somewhere in a corner and sleep, knowing I’d wake up eventually in my own bed again, waiting for Santa to come.
I know what Christmas might seem like to very many of you nowadays. I know that as you grow up you start to take on more responsibilities, and sometimes the buildup to Christmas can lose its magic and appeal when it becomes more of a chore. Did I get presents for everybody, what foods do I need to make, do I really need to go to x, y, and z’s Christmas parties, where are the relatives going to stay when they come over, what fight/sensitive topic is going to come up over dinner this time. It’s rough. There’s so much pressure around the holidays for everything to be just perfect. It seems that around the holidays our work, personal, family, and social lives begin to intertwine and the healthy boundary we often maintain around each wanes.
If you’re anything at all like me, you already know you’ll probably spend a good portion of the holidays taking a significant chunk out of your physical well-being. January is going to be a diet and detox just because it simply has to or I won’t live til next Christmas anyways. But our emotional well-being can take a real pummeling this time of year as well. The holidays can be a time where increased feelings of loneliness or over-exposure can become a real problem. You may miss your family and loved ones or become annoyed with them and lose patience with their seemingly endless meddling. I feel bad for women over the holidays especially, as studies have shown that women experience the worst of these emotional stresses and fluctuations as, not to be sexist or anything, it is women who normally take over the responsibilities of holiday decorating, planning, gift-buying, wrapping, cooking, and baking.
So for those of you who are tempted to turn to venting, drinking, or gorging yourselves this holiday season to deal with stress, I’ve listed below some healthier, more effective, and less destructive, ways of dealing with holiday stress. I hope this list helps and that I see all of you on the other side of New Year’s.
ManVsLoneliness’s Holiday Survival Guide: 2016 Edition
- SET A BUDGET – While it is true that the holiday season and spending go hand-in-hand, so too does spending and stress. Last year, Americans added an average of $986 to their debt over the holidays. That’s almost a thousand dollars in the span of two weeks. Even just thinking about it has raised my blood pressure a bit. Obviously we know that we are going to have to spend over the holidays, and this isn’t necessarily the bad part. After all, we want to give our friends and family and loved ones thoughtful presents to thank them for the past year. And you might have some former Christmas party foibles to repent for. Set a budget for yourself before you go shopping and stick to it. Don’t let the pressure of the season and the ‘perfect’ gift force you into a debt that is just going to mess with the rest of your holiday enjoyment. There is nothing wrong with setting a budget with family and friends, or even setting up a Secret Santa instead to alleviate some of the stresses of keeping a long Christmas list.
- EXERCISE – Most of us will want to wait until after Christmas and New Year’s to get started on some physical well-being. But exercise can be a great way to relieve some stress and take care of yourself both physically and mentally. Research shows that physical activity can boost energy levels, elevate mood, and reduce feelings of anger, tension, fatigue, and depression. For those who don’t normally exercise, this could be a great incentive to get even a light amount of slight activity in, and for those who normally do, the stresses and temptations of the holiday season to set aside exercise time for other activities can actually contribute to feelings of depression and fatigue. Aim for at least 30 minutes of light activity at least three times a week. That can be a simple thing like getting outside to walk around your neighborhood and admire the Christmas decorations for half an hour or doing some holiday yoga by the tree.
- BE GENEROUS. This doesn’t necessarily mean to be generous with your finances. You could also be generous of your time, affection, and/or service. You could reach out to your local homeless shelter or soup kitchen and volunteer your time one weekend to give to those in need. If you were fortunate enough to receive an overabundance of wonderful presents, perhaps you can think of some people who might benefit more with some of them and donate them. Remember that ultimately the holidays are about spending time with those who matter most, so be generous of your time. Spend some special moments with the people you care about and remind them, and yourself, what the holidays are about. Bake some cookies together or decorate the house together.
- BE SELFISH. Have you ever heard the expression ‘giving to the grave’? Though Christmas may be ‘tis the season to give’, it is important to know your own limit and not overextend yourself. Be confident and aware enough to know when to stop and say no. Set aside time for yourself to relax, reflect, and rejuvenate. Even just ten minutes away from everything can be beneficial. Use the time to meditate or just pay attention to your breathing. Shut out all the noise and chaos and remember to always take a mental inventory of your own personal resources and replenish it when necessary.
- EAT WELL. I mean, who am I kidding? We all know I am going to go absolutely bonkers when Christmas comes along and I’m at family parties. But I will be eating mainly vegetables, meats, and seafood, avoiding unnecessary carbs and sugars. Over the holidays you may come across a glut of sugary treats that will feel great in the moment but will make you feel guilty afterwards. I know when my office party comes along, when we are going to relatives for their party, and what we’ll be serving at home on Christmas Day. I know exactly what I will eat and how much, and plan accordingly. I avoid the Christmas cookies and cakes and other such tempting but ultimate empty treats because I know I want to appreciate more fully all the savory treats. I’ll have to post later on what foods I most look forward to over the holidays!
- MANAGE YOUR TIME. Honestly the key to holiday stress-free success is a good sense of organization. Set a budget, stick to it. Have fitness goals, maintain them. Watch what you eat. Schedule yourself and commit. Best way to avoid the stress of last-minute holiday shopping and dealing with the crowds and lines? Don’t shop last-minute. Seven Christmas party invites? Feel free to decline them in a polite and timely Don’t be that person who never commits to saying yes or no. There is only so much you can do in two weeks, and I imagine you already have a pretty strong feeling what it is you would want to do. Find a schedule that works for you and work in just as much as you would like to handle.
Ultimately, let’s not forget what the holidays are really about. I know all of the hype and pressure around the holidays can make it seem more like a responsibility than a treat. But if you let yourself start viewing the holidays as an obligation, then really, what’s the point? As cliché as it may sound, it really honestly and truly is not about what is under the tree or what’s on the table. It’s about who’s around the table and who’s gathered around the tree. I look forward to seeing relatives we don’t normally see and catching up, seeing how much has changed over the year. I use the holidays as a time to thank my family and friends and the gifts are just expressions and extensions of my gratitude. There may be (okay fine, more like there definitely ARE) times when I feel a bit lonely over the holidays, wishing I had someone special to spend it with, or to kiss on New Year’s, but I look to the people who are around me rather than aren’t, and I am still grateful and appreciate that there are more people than aren’t. Maybe I don’t get to have that wide-eyed experience anymore like I did when I was a child, but I know the holidays are always going to be special for me, and I hope they are for you as well.
Don’t forget. Frankie says relax.
Man: 136 Loneliness: 28