The holiday season can bring mixed emotions for many. For some, it’s their favorite time of year. For others, it brings feelings of sadness and loss.
For many Tulsans, the holiday season comes with mixed emotions. It’s the most wonderful time of the year for some, as they reconnect with friends and family, reminiscing nostalgic pasts. For others, sadness, conflict and anxiety are more appropriate words to describe the holidays. Hectic shopping, dangerous crowds, endless cooking, tiresome cleaning, exuberant parties, over-eating and unpredictable weather can all trigger challenging feelings, making this a troublesome time of the year for our mental health.
The season of giving, as it is so often called, many times involves the stress of what to get for all the children in the family or other loved ones in your life. These days, many families are also blended families with complex dynamics that make it even more difficult to navigate through the holidays. Questions like, “Can I afford to get everything everyone wants?” “How much is too much?” and “What relatives do we give gifts to this year?” don’t come with easy answers. All the expectations and, for some of us, previous broken holiday promises, can cause us to withdraw and become emotionally overwhelmed.
But, making holiday memories doesn’t have to be something to simply survive; it can be a time for new starts and positive vibes. With a special thanks to the Mental Health Association Oklahoma’s Mark Davis and Mike Brose, here are a few tips that could help with your mental health this time of the year.
Make time for yourself
With all the holiday rushing and bustling, we forget self-care. If that’s a completely foreign concept to you, keep reading. Putting on your oxygen mask first, before helping others has become the perfect metaphor for self-care. If you burn out due to stress and anxiety, how can you give to those who need you? Read. Do yoga. Take a bath. Journal. The things that energize you, do these. In the end, neglecting yourself is really neglecting everybody else.
Enjoy the positives
“Sometimes our mindset really dictates the type of holiday we have on a mental level,” says Davis. “If you choose to focus on the silver lining in things, you’ll have a great holiday. Whatever you do have, focus on those things.” Christmas can often be about what we don’t have. That can lead to depressive thoughts and negative thinking. Choosing to look at the good in all circumstances can lead to a happier and more content holiday.
Narrow down your priorities
“The way the holiday is structured, there’s a drop-dead time,” says Brose. “It’s Christmas Eve, now it’s Christmas morning, and all these things are shoved in there. Usually people are trying to do too much. With all the traditions out there, we have a hard time giving them up, but sometimes you need to choose what’s important to you and your family, not what everyone else thinks. The earlier you can decide that kind of thing, the better, even as early as July.”
Try something new
“Buy a tube of chocolate chip cookies and make them as a family,” says Davis. “Do something different from what you’ve done before, and don’t get caught up in what mainstream society says your family should do.” Play a new family game together. For singles, try a new Netflix or Amazon Prime show to binge watch on a holiday weekend.
Acknowledge your feelings
Ask yourself how you’re feeling throughout the holidays and if the feelings aren’t positive, ask yourself what may be causing the feelings and what you can do about it. For example, if Facebook is causing you to be jealous, angry or sad, take a break from it for a period of time. Make time to chat with a good listener about what you’re really feeling.
Lean on someone caring and supportive
“We like to say, ‘Surround yourself with family,’ but some of us are disconnected and estranged from family. The thing that you want to avoid is loneliness,” says Davis. “We want to know we’re valued and that we have a purpose, so hanging around people you connect with and love is of utmost importance.” Emotions run high during the holidays and being around caring and emotionally supportive friends can be the best thing.
Have fun but do it in moderation
Don’t forget to sleep. Enjoy the food and drinks but don’t overdo it. Play some video games, but not for two weeks straight. Holiday parties and alcohol go hand in hand this time of the year. Often, a drink or two can help us de-stress, but sometimes we can abuse alcohol. Sadly, that can lead to more problems. Set a limit beforehand and stick to it.
Enjoy free holiday activities
If it snows, find a hill and go sledding. Check out Philbrook Museum of Art for free on the second Saturday of every month. Take a stroll down Jenks’ Main Street. Do some people watching and window shopping. Play board games over hot chocolate. Look for ways to lessen the blow of holiday spending.
Avoid family conflict
Here’s a saying that rings true this time of the year: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If you know doing or saying something to another member of the family will cause strife, don’t do it. If you know that three days in a row with Uncle Joe is too much, only visit for two days.
Limit the calories and increase the exercise
Let’s be honest. Holiday desserts are the bomb. But saying ‘no’ to a second or third piece, as well as increasing exercise, can improve your mood and reduce anxiety during these days. Exercising helps your body release feel-good brain chemicals that can help tackle some of that holiday stress and depression. Try some yoga. Bundle up and go take an afternoon walk. Stay active and eat less than the entire pecan pie.
Take time to volunteer
One of the most rewarding things you can do during the holidays is to volunteer in some way. Helping those who are less fortunate yields rewards tenfold. So many times, the old saying, “It is better to give than to receive,” is proven true in the end. Volunteer at a food pantry or take some old clothes to a downtown shelter.
Have realistic holiday goals
Whether it’s spending goals, nutrition goals or family expectations, keep it realistic. Setting the bar too high during this time of the year can often lead to hurt feelings, frustration, and even more stress and anxiety than you started with. Not everything has to work out perfectly. Remembering to stay positive, even if things don’t turn out exactly the way you planned, will help you enjoy the moment and see the good that truly does exist this holiday season.
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