The holiday season is meant to be a time of joy, celebration and for spending time with those we love. However, the festivities come with high expectations of perfection that many of us struggle to live up to. Many people experience feelings of isolation, financial strain or increased family conflict that can make this a very stressful time of year. And it’s even harder for those of us with poor mental health.
“There are some simple steps we can all take to manage the stress of the holiday season” says Julia Payson, Executive Director CMHA Vernon. “My father passed away right after Christmas, so for me, the holidays can intensify feelings of grief as well. The key is mental wellbeing through the holidays is to keep things simple, focus on what is important to you and, remember to make your mental health a priority.”
CMHA offers 15 Tips for Holiday Peace of Mind:
- Plan ahead. If you’re entertaining, use the “keep it simple” strategy. Try menus you can make ahead of time or at least partially prepare and freeze. Decorate, cook, shop, or do whatever’s on your list in advance. Then you can really relax and enjoy visiting friends, relatives and coworkers.
- As much as possible, organize and delegate. Rather than one person cooking the whole family meal, invite guests to bring a dish. Kids can help with gift-wrapping, decorating, baking, or decorating cards.
- Maintain your healthy habits. Having a few too many glasses of egg nog can dampen your holiday spirit; alcohol can lift your mood but then drop you lower than before. Eat well. Exercise regularly. Get a good night’s sleep. These are three ways to battle stress, winter blues, and even colds.
- Stay within budget. Finances are huge source of stress for many people. Try to eliminate the unnecessary and stay within your budget. A call or a visit to tell someone how important they are can be more meaningful than a gift. Enjoy free activities like walking or driving around to look at holiday decorations, going window shopping, or making your own decorations or presents.
- Consider why the holidays are important to you. Make that your priority. Develop your own meaningful family traditions that don’t have to cost a lot of money. Try not to take things too seriously. Fun or silly things to do, games or movies that make you laugh, playing with pets, and time alone or with a partner are all good ways to reduce stress. Use this time of year to help regain perspective.
- Spend more time with others. If you have few family or friends, reach out to neighbours. Find ways to spend the holidays with other people. If you’re part of a family gathering, invite someone you know is alone to your gathering.
- Connect with your community. Attend different events with family and friends. Help out at the food bank or mission. Give to a charity like CMHA that helps those in need, or donating on someone else’s behalf; you can donate here.
- Simplify gift-giving –it’s the thought that counts not the price tag. Try putting family members and partners’ names in a hat and buy one gift for the person you draw; this can help reduce expenses and refocus energies on thoughtfulness, creativity and truly personal gifts. Encourage children to make gifts so the focus is on giving rather than buying. Don’t be afraid to try new traditions than the ones you grew up with.
- Remember the weather doesn’t help. Some people get the winter blahs each year, and a much smaller number (2-3%) develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD). For many, a 30 minute walk in the morning sun can help combat SAD – and is great for lots of other worries. Your doctor can also help.
- Learn stress-busting skills you can use year-round. If the holidays often get you down, you may struggle with stress, low mood and worry at other times of year. If this carries on into the New Year and starts to affect your daily life, you should see your family doctor. CMHA offers free coaching to help overcome low mood through Bounce Back. To learn more visit bouncebackbc.ca
Dealing with Holiday Grief
The holiday season can be especially rough for those of us who’ve lost someone close recently or who lost someone close at this time of the year. With all the messages of family togetherness and joy, the emptiness left behind when someone passes away is in harsh contrast to what society seems to “expect” us to feel. Below are some extra tips to help you or someone you know get through a potentially hard time:
- Talking about the deceased person is okay. Your stress will only increase if the deceased person’s memory is allowed to become a landmine that everyone tiptoes around.
- Things won’t be the same. It’s normal to feel at odds with yourself and family events when dealing with grief. Try not to hide, but don’t feel guilty about setting limits on how many events you will attend.
- Don’t let other people’s expectations dictate how your holiday will unfold. If you don’t feel like doing something this holiday season, don’t let others force you. If you do want to attend holiday functions, make sure you know your limits. Do whatever you need to do to help yourself.
- Take care of yourself and seek support. Stress, depression and bodily neglect are not a great mix at any time of the year. Don’t forget to practice self-care and talk to your friends and family about how you feel. Also, many communities offer support groups for people who are grieving. Being around people who know what you’re going through can be very comforting.
- Think about building some new traditions. It’s okay to not do what you traditionally do. Planning something totally different is not an insult to the memory of a loved one, and can be a positive way to ease some of the pressure. One of the traditions may include planning a special time to celebrate the memories of the person who died. Some families develop creative rituals like decorating a miniature Christmas tree at the cemetery, donating money to a charity, reciting a special prayer before the evening meal, or even just lighting a candle. Symbolic gestures like these can help families validate their feelings of sadness and overcome the guilt of enjoying special occasions.