by Suzanne Rust
‘Tis the season to be jolly, but frankly, the flurry of holiday activities can often have the opposite effect.
Whether we are worrying about paying for giftsand our bills, comparing the inadequacies of our lives to the media’s smiling images of holiday revelers, or simply trying to do it all, many people struggle with holiday depression during this season.
TheGrio is here to help. We’ve identified fivecommon culprits and spoken with a few experts for ways to combat these emotional drains and keep the jingle in your step.
Dealing with added stress
Add travel plans, organizing big meals, and shopping to our already hectic schedules during the holiday season, and anyone’s scales are bound to tip. Dr. Charlie Brown, author, performance psychologist, executive coach, and director of Get Your Head in the Game, says that coping starts withunderstanding what constitutes stress.
“The working definition of stress is when perceived demands are greater than perceived resources,” Brown told theGrio. “To reduce stress, you either have to reduce the perceived demands, increase the perceived resources, or decide that it’s not that important.”
He says that a little planning can go a long way, and because our to do lists are often a mile long, we must break them down into more manageable steps. “You’ve got to say, okay, this is essential, this would be nice, and this is going to be a bit of fluff. Keep your attention on what is bare bones essential, and learn to tune out the distractions.”
This is also a period when we run ourselves ragged: we eat too much, we drink too much, and we don’t get enough rest. Dr. Brown suggests that we take extra care of our bodies by getting some exercise every day. “Build in some type of activity, get some sleep, and drink lots of fluids. If you are tired and rundown, you are going increase your probability of stress and blowing up.”
Try to find some time alone for quiet reflection, even if it’s just five minutes, and take huge load off by simply accepting that not everything will get done perfectly. Learn to be okay with that.
Minimizing overblown expectations
Most people’s lives do not resemble a Hallmark card, but around this time of year, many hold onto the expectation that their life can and should. It’s almost as if we have been programmed to believe that we must feel and act a certain way during the holidays.
Brown says that when we place those crazy expectations on ourselves, “it’s easy to get into a funk in a skinny minute.”
Your holidays may not be exactly what you dream they could be, but Brown suggests that stepping back and looking at the big picture can help you gain perspective. “Find some time to practice being mindful of what is going on around you. Just pause and look at the simple pleasures, the little bitty things,” he said. “Usually we get upset because of those overblown expectations in our head of what the holidays should be, or ought to be. If you can just step back, breathe, get your pulse down and be appreciatively curious about what’s going on around you, even in the middle of a crazy shopping mall, it can [create] fascinating enjoyment.”
So instead of reaching for a level of merriment that might well be unattainable, look at the small, pleasurable things around you, and make those your focus.
Deflecting family dynamics
This time of year brings family members together who don’t often see each other. There is a lot of pressure to get along for the sake of the holidays, but interpersonal dynamics can really throw a wrench into that.
Dr. Brown offers a few strategies, starting with the 72-hour rule. “You can be on good behavior for 72 hours, after that, it’s easy to get sucked backed into old patterns, habits, and baggage. Get closer to 72 hours, and you can blow.” Keeping that deadline in mind can help you maintain your sanity.
Brown also encourages people to set realistic expectations and work on “controlling the controllables.”
“Focus on those things that are specifically under your control that increase the probability of a positive experience. For example, you cannot control the behavior of your relatives; but you can control how you respond to their behavior,” he said. “If you know there are mine fields, and toxic topics such as politics and religion, others may bring them up in conversation, but you do not have to join in or respond.” Resist taking the bait.
It is also important to schedule time to get out of the immediate physical surroundings of your relatives, if things get a little dicey. Go for a walk, or do something else simple that removes you from a potentially negative situation.
See if you can plan in advance to build a safe haven, such as time apart, or a place to regroup. “If you have a partner, plan together as a tag team. Head to a store, walk the dog, plan those mini-respites. I mean, even prizefighters have at least a minute between rounds. Give yourself a break.”
Relieving financial strains
Many people today are already stretched financially as the economy slowly recovers. The holidays, which can come with so many extra expenses, can really make a person feel extra inadequate and anxious.
Kim van Doorn, career coach, business consultant and managing partner of van Doorn Consulting Group, had this to offer to those struggling economically this season.
“People forget that the holidays are about giving—it’s not about the cost,” Dorn told theGrio. “People appreciate thoughtful gifts. If you have a tight budget, focus on experiences that allow you to spend time with others, such as going to their home and cooking a meal, babysitting, or child minding, for a single parent, or overworked couple. Washing someone’s car, or helping them organize a closet, or aspace in their home. If you have a particular talent, think about how you can share it with others. Do you bake? Can you tutor? Can you sew? Knit?”
Van Doorn also suggests that in lieu of giving gifts, try to gather together with family and friends to donate your time to an agreed upon charity. Make it meaningful. “If you have children, this is a good time to help them understand what it really means to give, and get them engaged as well,” Dorn said.
The reality of loneliness
So many people have lost family members to death, or are estranged by separation, divorce, or fighting. Thus, the holidays can put them in a very lonely place. Don’t focus on the way things used to be, experts say. Instead, begin new traditions.
“Start new relationships,” says Dr. Brown. “I know a group of adult orphans who gather together and create their own holiday experience.” The same group could be created with friends who can’t make it home for the holidays, or single parents. Create your own tribe and celebrate.
Brown also suggests that assisting others can help fill the void. “Volunteer. Find somebody to help. If you are struggling, one of the best things you can do is help somebody. It’s a gift that gives back ten-fold.” Knowing that you are helping someone else can give you a sense of purpose. It’s harder to feel lonely when you are in that mode.
Seeking professional help — if you need it
Be aware that the holidays may exacerbate troubled feelings that are already present.
If the blues linger well past the new year, take care of yourself and be open to seeking professional help if you need it.
We all deserve to merry on Christmas, during Kwanzaa, and beyond.