How to cope with holiday stress

The holiday television commercials show us perfect families, with perfectly decorated houses buying perfectly thoughtful gifts, eating perfectly delicious meals. But, what they show is imperfect. They don’t show those of us who are trying to celebrate without loved ones, or trying to make a dollar out of 99 cents, or squeezing 30 hours of activities into 24.

We’re all aware that Christmas is only five days away. With last minute errands and cooking and parties and eating and running around and snow on the ground and a really short amount of daylight it’s not surprising that some of us will suffer from anxiety and depression.

How do we cope? It’s a bit of a mystery, but most of us do. We grapple with the next week and a half and then just get over it. That’s if we’re lucky. But many of us aren’t so fortunate, and will need help to get through the struggle.

Please call your healthcare professional if you’ve been feeling sad, tearful, empty or hopeless most of the day, nearly every day. And, please, please go to the emergency department if you have thoughts of suicide.

The Mayo Clinic advises us to try to “prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.” Here what else they say:

Keep your expectations modest. Don’t get hung up on an ideal greeting card-esque holiday. Take things as they come and laugh at your mistakes. Change those age-old traditions. Remember no one likes fruit cake. Keep things simple and remember that mishaps become the best family jokes.

Lean on your support system. Tell your closest friends and family if you feel you can’t cope. Let them take a little burden off of you or just help by listening to your anxieties. Remember that you can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season, but you can hang out with people who understand you and, hopefully, make you laugh.

Don’t assume the worst is going to happen. If you’re careful you won’t slice your finger off while carving the ham and if everyone is careful on the road, there won’t be a car in the ditch. Here’s an idea: assume you’re going to have fun. Don’t worry about things you have no control over.

Try to 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,” Mayo Clinic advises. “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.”

Mayo Clinic also says to learn to say no. “Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed.” Well now, that’s very true. They also say to try to stay within your budget. If you haven’t finished your shopping remember you can’t buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.

“Don’t abandon healthy habits. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt,” they say. Make time for yourself. Keep up your regular exercise regime, get plenty of sleep and don’t go overboard on the holiday smorgasbord.

And finally, take time to do something for people who have less than you. Call hospice, the food bank or your church to find out what volunteer opportunities are available. Sometimes giving to others is the best gift we can give to ourselves.

All I want for Christmas is for all of you to have a safe, healthy, stress free and happy day. May all my wishes come true!

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com or 264-4029.