As we talked about in our last few posts, the holidays are a complicated time. Strengths, like natural supports and spiritual/religious worldview and community, are evident. Cultural stressors can be exacerbated.
In addition, individuals who have experienced loss or those who do not have adequate natural supports can experience the holidays as a lonely time. Many situations might contribute to this experience: the recent loss of a loved one, the end of a significant relationship, or the contraction of one’s circle of friends might precipitate feelings of distress during the holidays. Individuals facing the holiday season in the shadow of these losses may feel lonely, alone or left out at holiday time.
Even people with family and social connections who love the holiday season sometimes experience significant pressures to do the holidays “right,” celebrate in multiple households, or have frequent demands on limited time. They can feel overwhelmed, sensitive, or feel they don’t measure up. For people going through tough times, and possibly lacking resources (e.g., single mom who can’t afford gifts; a family whose father lost his job and is worried about eviction), the holiday season can be a time of stress as children make demands for expensive gifts and parents may need to choose between paying an electric bill, providing food, or celebrating in the way they’d like.
And so, while the holidays are a time when we can draw from and experience our many strengths, we may also need to practice our self-care skills to manage the complexity of the season. Some examples of self-care, important during the holidays and always, include:
Physical health: It’s easy to get out of self-care routines in the holiday rush, but departing too much from normal habits can have negative consequences for our health and well-being. We will feel better if we try to keep up our activity level, eat right and get enough sleep. It’s OK to eat more food – or more junk food – than we usually eat, slack off on going to the gym, or fill our schedule with parties and events. But try to fit in physical activity when you can: go for a walk after dinner, build a snowman with the kids or friends and have a snowball fight; turn on a fitness class on the TV and participate; sneak off for a yoga session at the gym. Have a glass of wine – or two – at the party, but stick to non-alcoholic drinks at the next one. Try some of Aunt Alice’s mud pie, but cut yourself a tiny slice to taste.
Mental health: Combat feeling alone at the holidays by treating yourself to something – a nap, a massage, a nice meal, a movie, binge-watching a new show, a new sweater. Reach out to others to schedule fun activities like dinner, a seasonal play, ice skating. Recognize that it’s not personal that friends are so busy and they are likely under pressure too! Say “no” to things you don’t want to do and don’t feel guilty. Set limits on the amount of money you spend on gifts, decorations and activities; suggest free or low-cost alternatives. Focus on the things that matter to you. Start a new tradition with friends or family.
Spiritual health: Contribute in some way; give of yourself and focus on others — volunteer at a soup kitchen, as a mentor, serve at a food pantry or rescue shelter. Offer to work on the holiday so that someone who celebrates it gets the day off. Go caroling. Participate in a toy drive or “adopt a child/family” drive. Join family friends to light Kwanza or Hanukah candles. Go to Christmas Mass. Meditate.
This should be a happy time of year, but if it is not, reach out to family and friends for support. Also know that, if your stress or sadness feels unmanageable, you can find professional support resources here: https://afsp.org/find-support/resources/
Whatever your celebration or activity of choice is this season, the TCOM team sends our wishes for your health and well-being during this holiday season and in the year ahead.