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Simple Strategies for Sailing Through the Holidays

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Stress » Featured Article

By: Dylan Mariah, RN, LMHC, MA, E-RYT

Dylan Mariah, RN, LMHC, MA, E-RYT

Simple Strategies for Sailing Through the Holidays, or... Staying Sane from October through January

Could Someone Plan the Schedule Better, Please?

You have to wonder sometimes why the winter holidays can’t be spread out more evenly over the year. From the end of October through after the New Year, it seems that we barely recover from one holiday and the next one is upon us. It doesn’t help that we start receiving Christmas and Thanksgiving sales promotions in October or that stores put out the next holiday’s items so early. Even with that, there is a lot to celebrate from late October through January! We have less than a month between Halloween and Thanksgiving with Veteran’s Day in between them. We have a month between Thanksgiving and both Christmas and Kwannza with one week of Hanukkah in-between those. The close of the year brings year-end tax work for some, a possible yearly review of last year’s resolutions and then, of course, another holiday; New Year’s Day! That’s a full schedule that doesn't include all of the other holidays celebrated by the wide variety of ethnic groups that make up our country. Even so, the stress from the holidays doesn’t really come from the crowded schedule.

Sources of Holiday Stress

Most holiday stress comes from these sources:

~unrealistic expectations of what we can add on top of whatever else we do

~pressure from the outside to do things we may not want or have the resources to do

~increased financial demands

~coping with the emotions that come with the holidays

In the United States the societal pressure this time of year is enormous. We have expectations from friends and family, pressure from the media and the advertising industry. Every organization seems to want our money and the ones that don’t want our money want to tell us what to do. We are inundated with advertising about sales we "cannot afford to miss". We are told to do more. Cook more. Buy more. Attend more events and gatherings related to holidays. Donate more money to worthy causes. Use up our Flexible Spending Account money. Then we pressure ourselves to not gain weight even though we are eating more and possibly exercising less (who has time for that?!!).

Even though the holidays are supposed to evoke joy and gratitude, they often don’t. We may feel obliged to spend time at gatherings with family members we prefer not to see at all. Sometimes we are reminded of past losses and we revisit feelings of sadness and loss. If you are inclined towards guilt, anger or sadness during the holiday season, it no doubt gets worse after the New Year. In your year-end review you may have come up short somewhere or you are worried about paying bills. You may find yourself in a panic that you have unwanted weight gain to address.

Taking Stock

I believe that most of the tension and extra work during holiday season is not really necessary. There are solutions for holiday stresses that can make this a really pleasant experience. The solutions may seem less palatable when we realize they have to start with our own behavior and attitudes. Regardless of outside pressures, we have the right to choose what we do and what we don’t do. We do not have to overload our schedule or buy anything extra at all. We can choose to celebrate our holidays differently.

It’s pretty simple. First we need to become aware of what we really want and we can only find that out by looking inside. Then we need to address the attitudes and feelings that keep us running and in a turmoil. Start with noticing if the treadmill you feel stuck on is taking you nowhere and what you really want to do is turn it off and walk away. The next step is to take action and “just do it”.

Action Steps

What does “doing it” mean, really? Maybe delete the advertising emails. Ignore the sales and the specials. Decide not to over-eat, over-spend and over-schedule. Then act on what you have decided is best for you. Being successful in the follow through means maintaining calm and not reacting to the outside pressures. It means choosing a positive attitude and declining worry and fear. These changes usually require some inner healing and a daily spiritual practice to achieve and maintain.  You may need to change your beliefs about what is important.

Embracing the Middle Road

Overdoing is a great set up for resentment, irritability and fatigue. Moderation is key to success. It’s okay to choose to participate in holiday activities a little. You don’t need to say yes to everything and you can change your mind. When invited to an event you can say “I don’t know yet, I’ll get back to you" to buy yourself time to think it through. Moving out of rigid rules about what you "have" to do is healthy and helps you relax during the holidays. When you are enjoying them, others will enjoy being with you.

Keep Your Focus on Self Care

When you feel you don’t have enough time, it is tempting to let go of your regular self care. The holidays come and the weekly exercise class, meditation, quiet time reading and the things you do just for you all fly out the window in favor of shopping and holiday preparations. This isn’t necessary. You can shop less and perhaps shorten the time you spend in self care, just try not to let it go of it completely. Daily self care is important to your mental and physical health and the routine you have already established is easier to keep going than to get started again after the first of the year.

Simple Tools for Promoting Calm

Two tools we can use to achieve serenity at any time of year are journaling and meditation. In meditation we come to awareness of our feelings and needs, develop skills in detachment, and practice being peaceful. We gain clarity and we relax. Journaling helps us work through feelings and practice self honesty. We can set goals and look at strategies to ensure success. We read what we wrote before and recognize patterns and progress we have made.

Both of these practices get us in touch with who we really are rather than who other people want us to be. A simple 15-20” daily practice of meditation and journaling can completely change our lives and how we experience the times during the year when outside demands are high. If we add just 15 or 20 minutes of yoga, stretching, Tai Chi or walking, we boost our health and extend the period of time when we are being mindful. If you think of it, you probably spend more than 30” a day doing things that don’t help you feel centered and may not be good for your health.

Support is Good for You

The biggest burden becomes smaller simply by sharing how we feel with others. If you have difficulty motivating yourself or a lack of meaningful support from friends and family, consider individual or group support. A meditation or yoga class even once a week can settle down the agitation many feel at this time. Support from a therapist or a friend who is committed to living healthy can also be the key to success.

Start Small

Start small and pick one positive and relaxing activity you can do for yourself today. Choose one new attitude about the holidays. Try it on for just one day and see how it goes. It might grow on you and you will probably find you enjoy your holidays more. All you have to do is commit, follow through and reap the benefits, starting with the first step. Enjoy!

About the Author...

Dylan Mariah is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Registered Nurse, Certified and Registered Yoga Instructor, Reiki Master Teacher and Health Educator who offers Counseling, Workshops, Classes and Natural Healing services in the Rochester, NY area.

Her counseling and life coaching services reflect a deep commitment to compassionate care informed by many years of study and experience in traditional and alternative methods. Her workshops and classes reflect a dynamic blend of traditional practices with a contemporary interest in facilitating personal growth & fostering spiritual wellness. All of her services are geared towards inspiring and empowering participants towards making positive, sustainable changes.

Click here to contact or learn more about Dylan Mariah

Last Update: 12/16/2015

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