Many of us have shopping stories related to the day after Thanksgiving. The shopping frenzy of Black Friday is a very well-known cultural phenomenon. At least for me, Christ-mas Eve shopping is a yearly occurrence. It seems that with our already fast-paced lives, the holiday season puts us in fast-forward mode. The time between Thanksgiving and New Years sometimes feels like a blur since we always seem to be running around.
I love the excitement that comes with the holiday festivities. I love the spirit of joy and giving. However, my least favorite part of the holiday season is the feelings of apprehension, anxiety, and anguish I see in some people. I believe the combination of the holiday stress and cold weather make the holiday blues even worse in the greater Cleveland area.
How Can We Cope with Holiday Stress?
During the holidays, almost everyone around us plays
“armchair psychiatrist,” giving us advice on how to cope. We intuitively know what stresses us out but tend to be carried away by the moment. Combining my personal and professional experiences, I would like to suggest the following coping strategies:
· Focus on the spirit, not the hoopla: The spirit of the holidays should be kindness and caring; and not how many or how expensive material gifts we can give.
· Put a limit on your spending: The financial stress is typically the biggest stress for people during the holidays. Many people feel sad or guilty about not having enough resources to get the “wish list” for their loved ones. Of course, the biggest and most enduring gifts we can give are compassion and acceptance.
· Be realistic: It’s very import-ant to be fully aware of your work and other responsibilities. Be aware of your time commitments for essential obligations. Do not pack your free time with shopping, cooking, planning, or attending parties, etc. Make sure to schedule some relaxation time for yourself.
· Travel wisely: This is especially challenging when family members live far from each other. Always be aware of the cost, time and health risks associated with traveling. Sometimes meeting at a mutually convenient place may be less stressful.
· Be aware of your own feelings/behavior: For many people, family gatherings during the holidays may be very stressful depending on the family dynamics. Remember, the only thing you can control is your own behavior. Ignoring a confrontation or conflict might be the best way to maintain the holiday spirit. In addition, asking for forgive-ness for past mistakes may be especially appropriate this time of year.
· Deal appropriately with feelings of loneliness: If you’re alone or don’t have a significant social network, it may be helpful to volunteer for charitable organizations, especially the ones helping the less fortunate with food, clothes, etc.
· Work in your regular exercise routine: Given that the holidays are particularly stressful times, sticking to your exercise routine or even beginning a new one is wise.
· Sleep adequately: Many of us end up sleeping significantly less each night during the holidays. This usually results in less enjoyment and more irritability. Therefore, finding enough time for sleep is critical.
· Help your children with perspective: It is very import-ant to teach children the true meaning of the holidays and to de-emphasize the gift aspect. This creates for a less stressful and more meaningful family environment.
· Plan low stress family activities: Watching holiday movies, playing board games with your family and/or children tends to relieve stress.
· Watch your alcohol intake: Minimize alcohol consumption. Many people use the holidays as an excuse to drink excessively. While it is fine to celebrate with a drink or two, drinking too much may cause severe hangovers and decrease your general ability to cope.
Finally, you can always reach deep down into your soul and use your spirituality to enrich your life during the holiday season.
*This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or psychiatric issue. Dr. Rakesh Ranjan is a practicing psychiatrist, a researcher, an author, and an educator. He has been recognized by Ohio NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) as a recipient of the Psychiatrist of the Year Award, and by National NAMI as a recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award. Dr. Ranjan is a national speaker for several organizations and serves on the medical advisory board for the NAMI of Greater Cleveland. Please email your questions to Dr. Ranjan at firstname.lastname@example.org Each week, he will address some of these questions in this column. All contact information will be kept confidential.