It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or is it? For some, holiday celebrations can increase feelings of anxiety, depression or loneliness. When you are grieving or struggling with negative emotions, the season can be very difficult. It’s full of demands on your time and energy with shopping, baking, wrapping, houseguests and parties. Winter weather with less sunlight and North Dakota weather can dampen moods. We also tend to eat and drink more, which can contribute to less-than-festive feelings.
All that can add up to holiday blues, which are more common than you might think. If you find yourself struggling, remember these 10 tips to ease the season:
- Manage expectations. Be realistic about how much you can do. Try not to overschedule your days and nights. Remember to find enjoyment in small moments rather than expecting magical, perfect events.
- Set limits. Overeating and over-imbibing are par for the season. Reduce alcohol consumption by replacing that second drink with a glass of water. Save half your dessert for the next day or wait 30 minutes before having a second helping – you might realize you’re fuller than you thought.
- Game plan stressful gatherings. If you think family events might trigger negative emotions, figure out ways to cope ahead of time. Is there a relative you can count on for support? Plan an exit strategy if you need to leave early.
- Take a break. Indulge in something you enjoy that has nothing to do with the holidays. Maybe it’s a hobby or a couple of hours at your local movie theater. Getting away from it all can help recharge your emotional batteries.
- Get moving. It might be the very last thing you want to do, and the very best thing for you. Exercise releases endorphins – those feel good chemicals in the brain. Drag yourself to the gym, brave the cold for a quick walk or just pop in that exercise DVD.
- Don’t skimp on sleep. Strive for seven to nine hours a night. You’ll have more energy and a better mindset to face each day.
- Do something completely different. If you’re feeling lonely or grappling with grief, give yourself permission to change holiday routines. Start a new tradition, book an outing with a tour group, volunteer, join a club or reach out to someone experiencing similar emotions.
- Practice self-care. Keep up with or even increase therapy appointments or support group meetings.
- Say thanks. Start or end each day by jotting down three things you’re grateful for. Practicing gratitude can lead to more positive feelings.
- Know when to get help. If your emotions become unmanageable, don’t wait until after the holidays. Reach out right away for professional help.
Even under the best circumstances, hectic holidays can leave you feeling physically and emotionally drained. Remember that many people struggle through the season – even if they don’t show it publicly. And if you’re on social media, resist the natural urge to compare your holiday experience with what you see on the screen. Those posts are only a highlight reel. In reality no holiday is perfect.
Reverend Lori Lundblad, M.Div. is the hospice chaplain and bereavement coordinator at CHI Health at Home.