Do you hear what I hear? Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Better deck the halls before you rock around the tree! After all, ‘tis the season to be jolly.
But what about the days you feel more like hanging up your silver bells rather than going on a sleigh ride? Maybe you, or a loved one, won’t be home this year. It could be that the baby had anything but a silent night. Perhaps you have 20 commitments to fit into 12 days and your home is beginning to look more like a shipping warehouse than a wonderland? This year’s travel restrictions/concerns, supply chain issues and COVID, only compound the normal hustle and bustle of the season. It’s enough to make a person say “bah Humbug!” What about those days?
We are bombarded by messages that we should be happy during this season of festive parties, gifts, and decorations to the Nth degree. For some, this may be the first chance to enjoy a family gathering since the pandemic began, something to celebrate. And yet, it’s those very tasks and events that can lead to stress. A survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) revealed that among people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness, a majority (64%) report that their condition becomes worse during the holidays, and this was before the pandemic.
In the past, the American Psychological Association has reported that while work and money were the most common stressors leading up to winter, that around the holidays these shifted to lack of time, lack of money, commercialism/hype, giving/getting gifts and staying on a diet.
According to Verywell Mind Mental Health Tracker, this year’s stress levels are as high or higher than “normal” with 75% of Americans experiencing concerns over the holiday season. Of those concerns, their results showed the 2021 major stressors include:
- holiday expenses at 37%
- fear of getting sick at 30%
- shipping delays or supply shortages at 28%
- managing personal mental health at 26%
- travel restrictions at 22%
- managing mental health of a loved one at 19%
While it may seem inescapable, here are 10 tips to help you have a happy and healthy holiday season.
- BE REALISTIC
There are 24 hours in a day. A person can only be in 1 place at a time. These are 2 things we cannot change. Keep them in mind when scheduling activities and obligations. Take out time for work, sleep, self-care and family time. Then see what’s left before committing to something. Pick and choose what is reasonable for you and your family. This may be different than pre-pandemic years. That’s OK! Make new traditions.
When it comes to money, set budgets and boundaries for yourself. If funds are tight, think outside the box. Share your talents! From babysitting and cooking to auto repair and handyman tasks, we all need a little help now and then. You could also suggest a get together like a pot luck meal and game night in lieu of gifts.
- CONNECT WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Even in a “normal” year, with a constant slate of parties and gatherings, loneliness is still an issue for many. Join with a friend or family member for shopping, cooking or other holiday activities. Divide the work and share some laughs along the way.
If memories are painful, try new things to start new traditions. Community centers, churches and civic groups often have activities open to area residents. Those who have lost a loved one in the last year can be especially susceptible to loneliness. Reach out and include them in your plans.
If distance separates you from loved ones, or you need to maintain distance for health reasons, modern technology has many options to help you connect. Between video chat apps and interactive games and websites, there are a number of ways to not only hear, but also see the ones you love.
- TAKE A BREAK
Establish a self-care routine, even if it’s only 15 minutes. Choose a time of day that is good for you when you don’t think of the things on your to do list. In addition to those few minutes of down time, keep your bedtime as a priority. Sleep is vitally important to the body for both physical, mental and emotional health.
- DON’T FORGET TO SMILE
Try to not allow yourself be consumed with what’s next. Instead, stop and focus on what’s happening now. Metta Karuna McGarvey, Ed.D., a visiting fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Education and an expert on mindfulness as a catalyst of adult social and emotional development encourages people to look at the more humorous parts of life. She suggests: “Watch a funny movie, hang out with friends, look for opportunities to have a little fun every day…Laughter lowers the stress hormone cortisol and releases endorphins. Just take a minute or two a couple of times each day to think of something that makes you smile.”
- FEED YOUR BODY
Keep proper nutrition in mind to feel your best and reduce the chances of illness. Depending on your specific eating habits, you may benefit from supplements to help ensure you are getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. Additionally, some, can help you fight off stress. According to Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, nutrition, diet and health expert and author of The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health, magnesium can help you relax, zinc can help boost your immunity and omega-3 oils are effective anti-inflammatories. Your doctor of chiropractic can help you determine areas where your nutrition may be lacking.
- KEEP MOVING
In the midst of all the other things on your to do list, one thing that should NOT be dropped is time for exercise. When a person is excitable from stress, the burst of energy that you get from exercise can help burn the adrenaline off and calm you down,” said Erica Christ, RD, CDE, an exercise physiologist at Greenwich Hospital’s Weight Loss & Diabetes Center.
There’s more! Exercise gives you time to process things in your mind. As an added bonus, it triggers your body to produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, which has been associated with mood improvement. In fact, it can work as well or even better than antidepressant medications.
If you don’t already have a fitness routine, it’s ok to start small. Talk to your chiropractor about exercises within your fitness level that will be beneficial for your health and mood.
- BE THANKFUL
The National Alliance for Mental Health suggests creating a gratitude list, and then offering thanks for the people, places, events and things on that list. They report that gratitude has actually been shown to improve mental health! As an added bonus, focusing on what you are thankful for can help you prioritize your activities during this busy season.
- SPEND TIME IN NATURE
An analysis of Bulgarian students revealed that higher amounts of vegetation (green space) around their residences was associated with better mental health. This was primarily in the form of increased physical activity and restorative quality. Need to take a break from the hustle and bustle? Take a walk in a local park or even just around your block. Want to gather with friends or family but not ready to gather in tight quarters? Suggest a firepit night or hike at a local park.
- BE HEALTH PROACTIVE
With all the news regarding the pandemic, it seems that “wash your hands” has been said in every possible way. However, it also remains one of the primary ways to protect yourself from viruses and germs. Continue to take common sense measures to protect yourself and your loved ones. If you are not feeling well, stay home. Maintain appropriate distance between yourself and others. Wear a mask in close contact with others.
When trying to reduce stress, remember that regardless of your views on the topic, odds are that at some point you will be in contact with others who have differing views. Be respectful, while continuing to take precautions that are necessary for your health.
- BE AWARE
When we are stressed, we are more likely to feel sadness, loss of interest in activities, changes in eating and sleep patterns. For most, these feelings are fleeting and resolve fairly easily. However, for a small portion of the population, (approx. 5% of adults in the US according to the American Psychiatric Association), this can be signs of a type of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. For these individuals, the feelings can become debilitating and, in some cases, this can result in thoughts of death or suicide. Anyone who suspects a loved one is suffering with SAD, should contact a health care provider immediately to seek help. Treatment is available. If you feel the depression is severe or if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, consult a doctor immediately or seek help at the closest emergency room. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-TALK (8255) or 9-1-1.
Keeping these 10 tips in mind can help you avoid the major stressors of the holiday season and make this the most wonderful time of the year!
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