Why are the holidays so stressful?

November 16, 2018

If you’re like me, the holiday season is the most stressful time of the year. You have to plan get-togethers and make sure that Uncle Harry isn’t sitting next to Aunt Sally because they can’t get along.

You have to make sure that cousin Jane doesn’t get into the wine (’cause we all know how that ends up). You have to make sure that you have purchased gifts for everyone, and hope that it’s something that they will like. And what happens if someone shows up to your house with a gift and you didn’t get them anything?

With all of this, you must make sure that dinner is cooked and ready to go by the time everyone arrives. Which, by the way, never happens at our house. If we have dinner ready to go within an hour of everyone arriving, then we’ve done our job.

In a recent article in Popular Science, it was noted that expectations are one of the main reasons that we are stressed around the holidays. We have all watched those Christmas specials when the family has a picture-perfect life, which isn’t reality. One thing that we see more and more are the blending of families which can make traditions clash.

The Mayo Clinic has released tips to prevent holiday stress and depression:

• Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.

• Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.

• Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.

• Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.

• Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.

Try these alternatives:

• Donate to a charity in someone’s name.

• Give homemade gifts.

• Start a family gift exchange.

• Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.

• Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.

• Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.

Try these suggestions:

• Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.

• Get plenty of sleep.

• Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.

• Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

Some options may include:

• Taking a walk at night and stargazing.

• Listening to soothing music.

• Getting a massage.

• Reading a book.

• Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

We need to remember to keep our holidays in check as we don’t want them to be something that we dread. Always remember to recognize the things that may be triggering your depression (e.g., money, personal demands, etc.).

Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline: Call (208)398-HELP (4357) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Text support is available Monday through Friday, 3 p.m. to midnight.

Tammi Sykes works in administration for Health West. She has lived in Southeast Idaho her whole life and is a graduate of Highland High School and ISU’s College of Technology.

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