Are you are experiencing a dip in your mood just when it’s the season to celebrate thankfulness and to be jolly? Carving the turkey with friends and shopping for a gift for someone special is a part of life during the holidays.
Drowning your troubles in egg nog and pigging out on holiday candy is not the solution.
If you are feeling alone during the holidays because of a death, divorce or separation from your loved one or if you are feeling obligated to visit or entertain friends or relatives that you would rather avoid, perhaps the following guidelines may help minimize the “Holiday Blues.”
One thing to remember: There is no cure-all for the holiday blues, however it is important for you to understand that the only person in charge of how you “feel” is you.
Before you get defensive about that statement, I suggest that you take a closer look at the real issue that brings on this feeling. It is not in your best interest to allow what you think to color how you feel.
Understand the difference between the holiday blues and holiday stress. Holiday blues are feelings of loss or sadness because you can’t be with people who are special to you. Holiday stress is often caused because you believe you need to be with some of those people.
Do your best to accept that your emotions will vary during the holidays. Plan ahead. Schedule some fun events for January to give you something to look forward to.
No one wants to be alone during the holidays! And although you may not be in a position to do anything about being with the one you would rather be with, you can do something to help yourself focus on making yourself “merry” during the holidays. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Avoid alcohol and party drugs! If you are already feeling down, alcohol depletes the brain of serotonin, a chemical it needs to maintain normal mood. Party drugs can only create additional relationship stress. Just say, “No.”
2. If you are lonely, show up where people are. Invite close friends to be with you! Ask friends to help you donate toys or clothing to various charities. Volunteer to help prepare and serve food at at local soup kitchen.
Joyce Faith once said, “The mystery of being a volunteer is that lonely hearts feel useful, fearful hearts discover it isn’t so scary to encounter another person, cynical hears learn to be hopeful and isolated hearts are warmed by community.”
3. Exercise and keep those endorphins pumping, especially if you have a tendency to avoid your feelings of loneliness by sleeping too much.
4. Choose HEALTHY food! Pick food that will stabilize your blood sugar when you know you might be sampling lots of sweets during the holidays!
5. Decorate your house or apartment with lots of holiday lights! Do it for YOU! Often the moods of the seasons are affected by shorter days and longer nights during November and December. Our biological body recognizes these signals and often people react in extreme ways and can’t seem to stop eating, gaining weight and sleeping excessively.
6. If visits from certain people during the holidays in the past have affected you in a negative way, it’s time to assert yourself. Let them know that “This is not a good time for me to have guests,” or “I have other plans this year, but thanks for asking.” You do not have to make excuses or defend yourself. They may expect you to give an excuse, but you don’t have to do it. Make your own choices. Assert your right to say, “No, and thanks for asking.”
7. Practice gratitude! Be thankful for all the things you DO have and avoid focusing on what you lack. Count your blessings! Make a list! When you really look, you can find many positive things to focus on. “Pity Parties” are out!
8. If you have children or loved ones who come to visit, do your best to create an atmosphere that focuses on “doing” rather than “having.” Plan lots of holiday activities together; bake some cookies together; read a story aloud; make your own holiday decorations; give homemade gifts.
9. Emphasize the more spiritual aspects of your holiday. Rethink the reason for the season. Attend a special holiday service (i.e., a candle lighting service), take a drive around the city and enjoy the Christmas lights and holiday decorations! Doing so can help you understand that you are not really alone!
10. Read a good book; one that will help you focus on being the very best person you can be; one that will help you understand that the only relationship you have total responsibility for is the one you have with yourself. Take time for YOU! Never stop working YOU!
11. What about a lack of money. Social pressures of “giving” often brought on by expectations induced by the media or children’s expectations can also cause stress and lead to excessive spending on credit cards. The result is overextended credit so that the happy new year brings wilted poinsettias and bills that can’t be met. Refer to #8. Focus on “doing.”
12. Send “Thanksgiving” cards instead of Christmas cards this year. Thanksgiving and Christmas are both holidays that focus on giving. Thanksgiving: Giving thanks. Christmas: Giving gifts. Thanksgiving’s giving acknowledges people. Focus on giving “thanks” to those people who are in your life. Take time to personalize your greeting. Do your best to acknowledge them for something special. This will make you feel good about yourself and may put you in more of the holiday spirit.
13. Have your “First Annual Thanksgiving” feast for other single friends. To make sure everyone gets involved, have them bring a favorite dish to share. Have a few special friends over to prepare a turkey. Before the meal, share what you are thankful for or a special holiday memory and ask everyone else to do the same. Another idea would be to have a “tree decorating party” or a Hanukkah dinner with your special friends.
14. Host an alcohol-free “Holiday Hayride” to look at the Christmas lights. Solicit volunteers to help you make a batch of cider or hot coffee. Sing Christmas carols at each stop. Check your local newspaper for a list of houses to tour.
15. Visit a nursing home. You think you’re lonely? Volunteer! Statistics show that many elderly people are often forgotten during the holidays. Your visit will ALWAYS be appreciated! Give them a small homemade gift or a holiday card. Spread some holiday cheer!
16. Be Santa Claus or Mrs. Claus to others this year. Run an ad in the local paper. Rent yourself out or do it for free. One year I played Santa Claus to a family whose father had lost his job. The children were not getting any toys for Christmas that year. My friends bought gifts for the children and I delivered them dressed as Santa Claus. When you bring joy to others, a little of it always stays with the giver.
17. Catch up on your ZZZZZZZZZZs! A recent survey by the Better Sleep Council reported 51 percent of Americans say stress disturbs their sleep. Unwind early in the evening, cut down on stimulants and follow other tips at www.SleepFoundation.org.
18. Treat yourself to a pre-holiday pampering. Play a round of golf. Schedule a full-body massage. Do something special for YOU!
19. Can’t find any humor in the holidaze? Do something to make yourself laugh. Rent a funny video. Laugh. Use humor to transcend your stressful situation. Read some jokes at: www.CelebrateIntimacy.com, www.WhichIsWorse.com or www.Bored.com.
20. Plan ahead. Get ready for next year now. Create a holiday file, adding articles, jokes, and ideas that you’d like to try and jotting down what worked and what didn’t. Recycle holiday cards to preschools and children’s hospitals for art projects.
21. Take a long walk in your own neighborhood. Leave the cell phone and pager at home. Check out the Christmas decorations. Unwind. Think. Enjoy!
21. Pay attention to your breathing. Breathe deeply. Sit tall, with your pelvis tucked, shoulders, back and chin up. Inhale for three seconds, hold for three, exhale for three and hold for three. Leave out the holding part if you have cardiac problems. Repeat for two to five minutes and do several times each day, especially before going into a stressful situation. Gradually, increase the number of seconds. Take care of YOU!
Don’t depend on someone else to make your season bright! You alone must do whatever it takes to do that. Have fun. Create some new memories. Defy tradition and start your own. There are lots more fun ways to do this. Have a brain-storming get-to-gether with a few of your friends and together create a list of fun seasonal things to do.
Then. . . get busy!
by Larry James
Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago. Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance. He started the Inner Control program because so many patients asked, “what more can be done along with traditional treatment methods?”