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Holidays are Hard

by Nurse Jill

Winter holidays have a certain stereotype that we pretend to embrace in the United States.

Hollywood depictions of snow covered lanes, lilting flakes, and lingering low-lit moments are what most of us think about when we start approaching that “most wonderful time of the year.” However the 21st century American reality of late November and all of December looks much more like dirty snow removal, blowing drifts, and hustling breathlessly from one commitment to another. Other compounding factors that impact our festive season are constant temptations to indulge, pressure to financially invest in different social exchanges, and mental health strain such as loss or fractured relationships.

Regardless of what traditions you observe during these last months of the year, studies show that these times are hard on us humans, both mentally and physically. So much so that certain health risks increase during the holidays. Two of the most notable are increased heart attacks and increased depression.

However, just like you are wise enough to put snow tires on your vehicle and get our your winter boots when you hear the first snow is coming, you can prepare yourself for the inevitable stress of the holiday season.

Make a plan:

Part of the mental stress of winter is the constant option to be busy. While you may thrive going out and socializing or serving, you can only do so much. It is really easy to wear yourself out physically and mentally when you’re having fun doing it. But the result is the same: stress, wear and tear, and decreased energy. So sit down for 20 minutes with pen and paper in hand and make a plan.

First, be realistic with your calendar - there are only 39 days in between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. You cannot do it all.

Second, think about your perfect holiday season. What events and people does it include? What events and people does it not include? List them both.

Third, pencil it in. Make commitments to those things that are special to you and be ok with letting go of the things that are just added stress. Invest well in what you love and let go of the calendar clutter. If you are somewhat obligated to go see good ol’ Aunt Linda then add a buffer of time before and after so that you have the margin to be kind.

Finally, pencil in a few days of rest. Hold (loosely) to your plan and start practicing saying, “Not this year.”

Have a Budget:

One of the most stressful parts of the holidays is the money involved in a lot of our traditions. Look now at what money you actually have and make a budget. Then - stick to it! Decide how many gifts you are going to buy and how much you can spend on each. Decide on how much you can spend on special outings or parties. It sounds like a lot of extra work but it will pay off when you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to pay off Santa.

- Focus on moments rather than materials. Do something special with those you love as their “gift.”

- Do an act of service for those on your gift list - this is not only frugal but can even mean more than a gift wrapped trinket. Clean their house, clean their yard, offer to take a load to Community Closet, cook them supper, invite them over for hot chocolate, promise them a dozen cookies a month from your kitchen, write them a song … you get the idea.

- Persuade your pals to be philanthropists. There are a lot of charities that offer great services to our community. Either give to these charities in honor of someone or gather a group and go serve together as your gift to each other.

- Limit your debt. There is a real temptation to try and buy a perfect holiday but if you increase your debt it will increase your stress. Make your time with others more about memories than money.

Be Honest About Your Health:

Many start to live in denial about their health circumstances during winter festivities. Whether it’s imbibing on one more drink or indulging in those cookies that you haven’t had since last year, loosing track of your health goals can be pretty risky when celebrations go for weeks on end. This also goes for mental health.

- Keep on your diet. Choose one or two days of the week to enjoy ONE treat of the season but don’t let it turn into a daily occurrence. Daily indulgences add up quick and they have consequences.

- Keep on exercising. Just 20 minutes a day is enough to reap health benefits - this includes physical AND mental. (If you haven’t been exercising it’s good to check with your doctor first.)

- Be honest about how you are feeling. Depression and loss can really weigh a person down this time of year. Make sure you have someone you can talk to and resist the urge to isolate yourself from others. Find a friend to confide in and give them permission to check in on you. And then commit to actually answering their calls.

- Get help. It is fairly common to delay seeking professional help for both physical ailments and dips in mental health until after the holidays. You may think that getting help isn’t in line with the jolly holiday or you may think that everything will get better once the stressful time is over. Please, don’t wait, get help now. Delaying mental or physical health issues is never a good idea.

- Check on your friends. If you know someone that has depression or has experienced loss check on them and ask how they are doing. Knock on their door with a cup of coffee and some time to listen. It will be one the best gifts you can give.

Despite your feelings about the season that is quickly approaching, delight or dread, you can protect (and even help) your mental and physical stress by making a plan for your time, having a budget for your money, and being honest about your health situation (mental or physical).

Here’s to the most wonderful time of the year actually being wonderful this year.


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