By Caitlin Cuggy
Growing up, Christmas was my favourite time of year. I recall feeling completely giddy when the last school bell rang before we were on holidays for two weeks. I was free to sleep in, bake gingerbread cookies, and see my friends who went to different schools… What could be better?! Playing outside was by far my favourite thing to do. The blanket of snow that surrounded my house became my forts, my snowballs, and my snowmen. After a day of playing outside, my friends and I would drink hot chocolate and roast marshmallows by the fireplace. My 10- year-old self was carefree and blissfully happy during this time of year. These days were magical and reflect a time that I will always cherish. Unfortunately, as we grow up, the holiday season involves more than building snowmen and drinking hot chocolate. The reality is that for many, the holidays are filled with a variety of stressors, including increased financial burdens and family conflicts. It is important to recognize that while such stressors are inevitable, how one chooses to respond to them can affect the level of stress you feel during the holiday season. Tips to Handle the Stress of the Holidays The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests the following tips to lessen the stress and anxiety that often accompanies the holidays:
Take time for yourself — There may be pressure to be everything to everyone. Remember that you’re only one person and can only accomplish certain things. Sometimes self-care is the best thing you can do — others will benefit when you’re stress-free. Go for a long walk, get a massage or take time out to listen to your favorite music or read a new book. All of us need some time to recharge our batteries — by slowing down you will actually have more energy to accomplish your goals.
Volunteer — Many charitable organizations are also suffering due to the economic downturn. Find a local charity, such as a soup kitchen or a shelter where you and your family can volunteer. Also, participating in a giving tree or an adopt-afamily program, and helping those who are living in true poverty may help you put your own economic struggles in perspective.
Have realistic expectations — No Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza or other holiday celebration is perfect. View inevitable missteps as opportunities to demonstrate flexibility and resilience. A lopsided tree or a burned brisket won’t ruin your holiday; rather, it will create a family memory. If your children’s wish list is outside your budget, talk to them about the family's finances this year and remind them that the holidays aren't about expensive gifts.
Remember what's important — The barrage of holiday advertising can make you forget what the holiday season is really about. When your holiday expense list is running longer than your monthly budget, scale back and remind yourself that what makes a great celebration is loved ones, not store-bought presents, elaborate decorations or gourmet food.
Seek support — Talk about your anxiety with your friends and family. Getting things out in the open can help you navigate your feelings and work toward a solution for your stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consider seeing a professional such as a psychologist to help you manage your holiday stress.
Nourrissez l’enfant en vous (et débarrassez-vous de votre téléphone intelligent!) Qu’est-ce qui rendait le temps des Fêtes si spécial lorsque vous étiez enfant? Faire une maison en pain d’épice ? Décorer le sapin de Noël ? Allumer la menora? Verser la tambiko ? Pour bien des adultes, tout cela est devenu banal, voire une corvée ; ces rituels ont perdu de leur magie et de leur lustre. Enfants, nous vivions davantage le moment présent en participant à ces traditions. À une époque où il n’y avait ni Facebook ni téléphones intelligents, il était facile d’être absorbé et fasciné par la magie des Fêtes. Le fait d’être présent et pleinement engagé a pour effet d’accroître notre bien-être. Voilà pourquoi voir la magie des Fêtes avec vos yeux d’enfant peut constituer une façon de vous détendre. Cette année, choisissez votre tradition des Fêtes préférée. Permettez-vous ensuite de vous y engager pleinement, exactement comme vous l’auriez fait lorsque vous étiez enfant. Explorez les émotions et sensations que vous apportent ces activités, sans porter de jugement. Laissez-vous hypnotiser par la flamme de la menora, envoûter par les chants de la chorale à l’église, sentez les frissons vous parcourir le corps lorsque vous attrapez un flocon de neige avec le bout de la langue. Et faites-le sans votre téléphone intelligent. Le mettre de côté vous permettra de vous concentrer, de vous engager et de vivre le moment présent. Le reste peut attendre.
Take a Trip Down Memory Lane Before starting this exercise, find a quiet place, where you will not be disturbed. First, take some time to reflect on a holiday memory from your childhood that brings you joy. Next, immerse yourself in the memory. Try to recall the feelings and sensations you experienced. Be as vivid in your recollection as possible. Do you remember feeling excited? Giddy? Happy? Become engrossed in these feelings, as if you travelled back in time and were experiencing these moments for the first time. As a child, my favourite holiday tradition was my bedtime routine on Christmas Eve. After eating dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house, I recall rushing home to prepare cookies and carrots for Santa Claus and Rudolph. I imagine my mom saying that leaving Santa a delicious treat was our way of thanking him for bringing us our gifts from the North Pole. The smile on my face shows that I am delighted and proud that Santa will be eating the cookies I baked. I visualize my younger self and my sister laying a knit place mat down on the coffee table near our chimney. Giggling with excitement, we load a plate with warm chocolate chip cookies and carrots and lay it on the table. The scent of freshly baked cookies fills my nose and Christmas music dances in my ears as it plays on the radio. After laying out a tall glass of milk out for Santa, my sister and I run up the stairs to bed, our hearts racing with anticipation of what we will wake to in the morning. This small recollection has left me feeling relaxed and has put a smile on my face. I hope your trip down memory lane will do the same for you. While the stress of the holidays is inevitable, my hope is that trying some of these exercises and tips will help to keep your stress levels manageable.
Portions of this article were taken from Making the Most of the Holiday Season, from the American Psychological Association Help Centre. This article was written by Caitlin Cuggy, who is completing her Masters degree in Counselling Psychology (M.Ed) at the University of Ottawa. She is a summer student at Friends for Mental Health