Whatever our beliefs and traditions, the winter holidays are heartfelt and full of promise. Our families will be together and happy. The children will be good and grateful. Your partners will be gracious mind-readers. We will have enough time and enough money. Our spirits will be filled with peace and love...OR NOT!
More likely, say the experts, the common holiday experience of adults and children alike is stress. For adults, especially parents, navigating the Christmas season and winter holidays -- coping with disrupted work and caretaking schedules, and stretching to achieve the ideal images, on top of already hectic routines -- can leave nerves and emotions in less than holiday spirits.
Although we cling to the idea that the family will spend the holiday together, everyone will get along and it will be wonderful, with a good dinner and the gifts that everyone wants, it's a rare family that gets together two or three years in a row with the same members present and in the same circumstances. Rather than a simple time, it's a complex time, especially with the wide spectrum of families we have now.
Keeping Healthy and Managing Stress
Especially at this time of year, we have to take care of ourselves, if we are going to take care of others. Key ingredients to keeping healthy and managing stress are:
Enjoy: Appreciate the uniqueness of yourself and your own family
Relax: Find private time to read or listen to music; take time out of your busy schedule to sit or lie down; learn brief relaxation exercises you can use anytime to restore your energy
Laugh: It's still the best medicine
Breathe Deeply: It helps increase your energy levels
Exercise: Maintain a 20-minute regime three times each week; walk an extra lap or two around the mall while out shopping; stretch at every opportunity
Good Nutrition: Three well-balanced meals daily; eat a nutritious snack before going to a holiday party, so you are better able to fend off desires for party food
Positive Attitude: Negative attitudes are contagious and destructive
Contact: Maintain contact with your own nurturing support systems
Manage Your Time: Set priorities, and don't take on more than you can handle
More Helpful Tips
Determine that you will not be over-doing, over-shopping, over-cooking, over-complying or over-worrying this year. Put a sign on your bathroom mirror or the refrigerator to remind yourself and others. Remember the word "no," if you are susceptible to complying with every request for your time.
Change "Should" to "Want"
Are you saying to yourself, "I should do this . . ." or "I ought to do that . . ."? Decide which of these shoulds you really want, and make those shoulds your priorities.
Sit down with your family to determine those people, activities and experiences that make the holidays special. Decide to do a few things with these people, not everything with everybody.
Maintain a Balanced Lifestyle
With all the parties and celebrations of the season, it is difficult to get enough rest and exercise. It is easy to overindulge or spend too much money. Enjoy the holiday goodies, but plan to eat something low in fat -- in advance -- so you won't be tempted to overeat. If you want to drink alcoholic beverages, have spritzers (half wine and half soda), or add lots of ice, and don't have refills until all of the ice is gone. Better yet, volunteer to be the designated driver and don't drink alcoholic beverages at all.
Allow Yourself to Be Human
Avoid trying to be perfect during the holidays. Let some things slide. If you really want to do all of that cooking and baking, then let the dusting go. Enlist the aid of your family. Tell them what you need and then let them take care of assigned tasks their way.
Create Your Own Traditions
Deciding when to celebrate, how and with whom can be a time of conflict for new couples. Each person comes with their own family traditions. Instead of deciding to do it one way or the other, make your own traditions. You will not satisfy either of your families, so don't try. Let them know well in advance of your plans.
Create Your Own Family
Plan ahead and look for opportunities to be with people you like, if you are single or are away from home. Volunteer to help out at a food shelter or other charitable organization. Experiencing the joy of giving to others can be most satisfying.
If one of your traditions is sending greeting cards, begin early and write one each night or a few each week.
If you experience difficulty coping with stress, anxiety or depression during the holiday season, call for help.