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A State of Mind: Ways to handle holiday stress
Over the coming weeks, many people across our communities will join together with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others in celebration of Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays. While the season can be a special time that, hopefully, brings joy and innocence, it also can sometimes be accompanied by stress, tension and anxiety.
Many people are faced with the difficult task of dividing and sharing time between several different and perhaps splintered branches of growing family trees. Sometimes people have very different worldviews that can lead to contentious conversations, no matter how much we might try to avoid hot button topics.
Many families are faced with the financial pressures of trying to provide gifts for kids and others, particularly in the midst of economic challenges. Some individuals might be dealing with grief while celebrating their first holidays after the loss of a loved one. As temperatures drop and daylight decreases, others experience Seasonal Affective Disorder that can lead to depressed feelings and low energy levels. Adding to all that, nearly two-thirds of people with mental illness find that holidays make their conditions worse.
To help alleviate the intensity of these concerns and find a sense of calm and contentment, individuals can work to maintain appropriate expectations, understanding that the idealistic depictions we see in movies are not always realistic. Similarly, it can help to acknowledge limitations of time, distance and mental and emotional capacity.
While one might wish to be everywhere for everyone, attempting to do so often leads to burnout and feeling overwhelmed. It can be helpful to establish boundaries for when, where and with whom we spend our time. This also means accepting that traditions may change over time as families and circumstances change.
From a financial perspective, consider setting a family budget or spending limits for individual gifts. It can also be enjoyable to focus on sharing experiences or spending time together rather than buying material items.
In addition, research has shown that focusing on gratitude and thankfulness can reduce stress, lower risk of depression and anxiety and lead to feeling more optimistic and better about life overall. One idea is to practice the “three good things” exercise, in which one simply spends a few moments each day to write down three things for which they are grateful.
Similarly, the act of giving back or helping others has been shown to reduce stress and blood pressure while increasing self-esteem and leading to greater happiness and life satisfaction. Perhaps consider using available time or financial resources this year to volunteer at a local community organization, donate to a charity or support a family in need rather than buying more material things.
In the midst of the sometimes frantic and frenzied nature of the holidays, it is also important to maintain healthy habits and stick to positive routines like exercising each day, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and avoiding excess alcohol that can exacerbate issues.
Lastly, it can be helpful to simply acknowledge your feelings, be willing to take a break and seek help when you need it. Holidays can be wonderful and joyous times. Feeling stressed or anxious during the holidays is also valid. You are allowed to take a step back from engagements or spend a quiet night in. There is strength in reaching out to a trusted friend, seeking out a support group or scheduling an appointment with a mental health professional.
However you choose to spend this holiday season, I invite you to show compassion to yourself and others, give attention to your mental health, preserve boundaries and focus on gratitude as you’re able.
Bryan Busch is a licensed mental health counselor in Cedar Rapids. He also works at Folience, the parent company of The Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.