Editor’s note: the following is from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).
The holiday season is a time many of us look forward to —sometimes with anticipation, sometimes with dread. But the typical holiday pressures of more decisions, more cooking and cleaning, more decorating and entertaining mean less time to look after our own health and well-being. Peace on earth may seem impossible if you don’t have peace of mind.
CMHA’s BC Division suggests that some of the best ways to deal with added stress around the holiday season are common sense strategies.
“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed during the holiday season when we’re balancing the competing demands of family, work, finances, gift-giving and get-togethers,” says Bev Gutray, CEO of CMHA’s BC Division. “The key is to keep it simple and remember to make your mental health a priority.”
CMHA offers 10 tips for holiday peace of mind:
1. 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.
2. As much as possible, organize and delegate. Make a list and check it twice. In many families, moms do most of the holiday preparations. Have a “family meeting” and make a commitment to care about mom’s mental health, and share tasks. Rather than one person cooking the whole family meal, ask different family members or friends to bring a dish. Kids can help with gift-wrapping, decorating, baking or addressing cards. Don’t overextend yourself with too many commitments. Focus on doing what’s really important to you and your family. If it’s hard to choose between activities, rotate outings every two or three years.
3. Beware of overindulgence. Having a few too many glasses of egg nog can dampen your holiday spirit, since alcohol is a depressant. Also, too much fruitcake and too little exercise will probably make you feel lethargic, tired and guilty come Boxing Day. Exercising as a family to work out excess energy and stress is a great activity to schedule during hectic weeks. Don’t forget to get enough sleep to keep you healthy through this busy time of year. Eating well, exercising regularly and getting a good night’s sleep can help you battle stress, winter blues, even colds.
4. Stay within budget. Finances are still a great stressor for many people. Again, eliminate the unnecessary. Set a budget, and stay within it. A call, a visit or a note to tell someone how important they are to you can be as touching as and more meaningful than a gift. You can also enjoy free activities like walking or driving around to look at holiday decorations, going window shopping without buying, or making your own decorations or presents.
5. Remember what the holiday season is about for you. Make that your priority. Whether it’s the usual holiday advertising that creates a picture that the holidays are about shiny new toys and gift giving, remember that this season is really about sharing, loving and time spent with family and loved ones. Develop your own meaningful family traditions that don’t have to cost a lot of money. And use this time of year to help regain perspective. Also, remember 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. Watching children can also help us put things in perspective.
6. Invite 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.
7. Connect with your community. Attend diverse cultural events with family and friends. Help out at a local food bank or another community organization. Lend your voice to a cause you care about. Go through closets and donate clothes and toys, or whatever you can afford. Give to a charity like CMHA that helps those in need, or donate on someone else’s behalf; you can donate at www.cmha.bc.ca.
8. Gift-giving made easier and less expensive. 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 for friends and relatives so the focus is on giving rather than buying. If you find that your list of gift recipients is becoming ever-growing, think of combined gifts for people who live in the same household. Or arrange a mystery gift swap by asking friends to each bring one wrapped “mystery gift,” then draw names to decide who picks out a gift first.
9. Remember the weather doesn’t help. Some people get the winter blahs each year, and a much smaller number (two to three per cent) develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Paying attention to nutrition, exercise and sleep and being careful with alcohol are also important if you have a history of depression. If your low mood carries on into the new year and starts to affect your daily life, you should see your family doctor. If you’re not sure if you need to get help, try the self-tests at a website we’re a partner on called Heretohelp.bc.ca.
10. 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. CMHA offers two effective, low- to no-cost programs where you can develop skills to better manage problems, practise healthy thinking and build confidence. Living Life to the Full is a fun group course, while Bounce Back can be completed individually with help from a telephone coach. For more details, see www.llttf.ca or www.bouncebackbc.ca.