Holidays are supposed to be a time for celebration and joy, but if I'm honest, holiday hopes quickly turn to stress, anger, or depression. The pressure to purchase the perfect gifts, prepare for parties and listen to your great uncle Jerk-face blurt out subtly racist comments or ask you why you're still not married can leave the best of us feeling pretty lifeless. So many wrestle the deep pain of a lost loved one, feeling the ache of their missing presence at the dinner table. If that's not true for you, perhaps you notice old patterns of interacting resurfacing while staying with relatives. Yeah, Christmas can be rough. As you prepare for holiday busyness, take some time to strategize for success. Here are a list of 10 coping skills that have proven to be effective in minimizing stress and managing emotional distress. Remember, the easiest way to manage a problem is by preventing it altogether, or in the words of Ben Franklin, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure".
1. Remember you are not alone.
People who are depressed often isolate themselves from others, feeling a lack of motivation to spend time with people. Even when you don't feel like it, you need social interaction. Perhaps, you wish you had people to connect with and you just feel isolated. Know that it is important to reach out to others. I'd recommend attending an event in your community, at your church, or within your social network. Remind yourself that many others around the world also are experiencing similar emotions. There is solidarity even in simply knowing its not just you.
Science is consistently finding that gratitude makes you feel happy and lessens depression. Gratitude helps us change our perspective and appreciate what we do have. Take time to express the things you are grateful for this season. I personally practice gratitude journaling and find it helpful. Simply listing a couple of things per day that you are grateful for is enough to make a difference.
3. Get active
As the weather gets colder, I feel the growing urge to crawl under my warm covers and hibernate for the winter, but let's face it, that doesn't help anything. Sedentary lifestyles lead to poor physical health - duh, Amanda, we know! Getting exercise can, however, improve your emotional health too! The research is well-documented on the positive relationship between physical exercise and health, but emotional health is also powerfully impacted by exercise. Remember the words of the brilliant Elle Woods from Legally Blonde - "Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands, they just don't." Case closed! Exercise is a powerful way to improve your mood, increase productivity, control addiction and relieve stress by releasing mood-enhancing chemicals in your brain. Take time to go for a walk, play with children or choose to take the stairs instead. Be realistic so you can be consistent.
Many people neglect taking care of their basic needs during the holiday season due to busyness and stress, but self-care is critical to mood management. In addition to exercise, focus on getting enough sleep, nutritious food, water, and time to recharge. These things are like fuel for your engine. Without sufficiently meeting these needs, your emotional health and wellbeing will surely suffer.
5. Have fun
Getting older tends to bring out the serious old man in all of us, but it really doesn't have to. If you find it difficult to have fun, make sure you're saving time to do things you love. Maybe it's listening to music, dancing, playing a game or reading a novel. If you're smiling, uninhibited and actively engaged, you're probably doing it right. Being spontaneous or even silly might feel strange at first, but eventually you'll learn how to unwind. It will do wonders for your soul!
6. Helping others
Feeling too busy or stressed to think about someone else? Doing things for others, especially those less fortunate than yourself, can really improve self-esteem and mood as well as decrease negative feelings and stress. It also leads to a change in perspective, which can open your eyes to all that you have. Negative emotions frequently result from focusing on our own problems. Helping others can take your mind off of holiday chaos and remind you of what truly matters. Consider volunteering at a soup kitchen or contributing in another way.
Writing brings clarity to our thoughts and feelings. It improves emotional awareness, which can help you be more in control of your behavior and help you solve problems creatively. Writing is particularly helpful for the emotionally detached as well as those who are drowning in their emotions. It creates space for the middle ground.
8. Strategically plan out your day
Many people find that they are very exhausted at the end of the holiday season. Remember to strategically plan out your day, preparing to take breaks after having to be at stressful events. Anticipate the most emotionally draining parties and tasks and plan to do something you really enjoy before or after if possible. Also, try to see if you can eliminate some tasks or make them easier to complete. Some people find finishing their holiday shopping online or skipping an unnecessary event can be really helpful.
The holidays are filled with temptations to indulge. While dessert and alcohol are not inherently bad things, remember to participate in moderation. Excessive drinking and eating can lead to more problems, not to mention, regret.
Ask yourself if what you are stressing about really matters. Consider if this were your last Christmas, how would you choose to spend it. Instead of getting wrapped up in what you think you want and need, focus on what really matters. Spending and cherishing time with loved ones is typically cited by those on their death beds as what they wish they had done more.
I can't promise that if you do all 10 of these things, your face will turn into a permanent happy face emoticon, but it will significantly improve your ability to manage the stress and sorrow Christmas throws your way.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!
**Always remember to seek help from professionals if you need it.