by Muffy Walker, MSN, MBA
Muffy Walker, of the International Bipolar Foundation, writes a mental health column for KRL every other month.
For some, the holidays are a time for gathering with family and friends, gift giving, festive parties, shopping sprees, cookie exchanges, caroling and more. For others, the holidays are a lonely time, evidenced perhaps by the lack of all the joy experienced by others. For most though, the holidays are a time, good or bad, which can be filled with stress.
Here are some tips to help you get through the season unscathed:
The Family Gathering:
The family gathering tends to be high on the stress list. Should you attend the family dinner? Whose side of the family “gets you” and for what date(s)? Are your traditions being honored? Will family members you don’t get along with be at the gathering?
All of these factors play into your enjoyment of the traditional family gathering. If this is a particularly difficult time for you, let your host know. Explain that you may need to arrive late or leave a little early. Ask to be seated next to people with whom you get along and feel most comfortable. If there are grievances, set them aside as the holiday gathering is not the time to air them.
Be realistic about your expectations. As families change, new members join, so do the traditions. If yours is not honored, suggest to your host that you’d like to share it with the group or set aside another gathering to do so.
Take some time for yourself. Go for a 15 minute walk, sit on the porch and find something that helps you reduce stress.
The Gift List:
Where does your gift giving list end? Do you include only immediate family and best friends, or does yours extend to the mailman, hairdresser and 3rd cousins twice removed? What about the gift exchanges, the office party and pleas to help the underprivileged? Will you feel guilty if your gardener gives you a poinsettia, but you’ve nothing to give to him? Planning ahead can help.
Set a budget and stick to it. Let family know if you’re unable to give everyone a present. Suggest choosing a name and only buying for that one person. Set a dollar amount. Your gift doesn’t have to come from a store. Perhaps give something you make; your famous fudge or knitted shawl. Consider giving to a charity in the person’s name (no one knows the amount you spend except you & the charity!).
Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors…the party invitations may be endless or non-existent. If you are feeling lonely, why not look into community or religious events? Volunteering your time with those less fortunate will help boost your mood.
If the stream of invitations is plentiful, learn to say no. You know your limit, your sleep schedule and your budget. Decide in advance which parties work for you.
Don’t abandon your healthy habits. Over-indulgence will leave you feeling guilty. Eat a piece of fruit before going to the party. Once there, start with a glass of sparkling water or tomato juice. Remember to get plenty of sleep and stick with your exercise routine.
Seek professional help:
Despite your best efforts, you may still feel sad, lonely or isolated. Acknowledge your feelings. It’s OK to cry, feel angry or sad. You can’t force yourself to feel happy just because it’s the holiday season. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional, call on the support of your trusted friends or seek spiritual counseling.
Recognizing your triggers and taking control, will help you get through the season. Try each day to find one thing to be grateful for and you may find some joy as well.
Check out KRL’s Mental Health section for more mental health related articles.