For some, the holidays are a festive and joyous time. They seem to be unaffected by the hectic season and look forward to time with loved ones. And for others, the holidays can be a stressful time, one they wish they could fast forward through or even skip entirely.
If you find yourself dreading the holidays this year, know that you are not alone. Holiday gatherings and traditions can be difficult or painful for those who may be grieving the loss of a loved one, those dealing with infertility, or those experiencing any other significant life stress. Here are some things to keep in mind to make getting through the holidays a little easier.
It can be difficult maintaining your regular diet and exercise routines during the holidays, but aim for sticking to it as best you can. Exercise is a great outlet for stress, alleviating tension and improving mood. If you’re feeling more stressed this time of year, you need your outlet now more then ever. Schedule your workouts and make the time to prepare healthy meals.
With the onset of colder weather, you may find yourself staying inside more. Try to get outside in the sun often. Some people are more affected than others by the shorter days. No matter how sensitive you may be to sunlight, getting fresh air is also beneficial to your mental health. Aim for a short walk a few times a week. If the weather is nasty and walking isn’t appealing, you can open the windows for a little while to bring some fresh air in your home.
Be aware of your limits with respect to your personal time. The holiday season often brings invitations to different social events. Be honest with yourself about what you want to do as opposed to what you feel obligated to do. In order to be able to create limits for yourself, you'll also need to be comfortable with saying no. Remember that when you are declining an invitation or some responsibility, you are holding yourself accountable to the limit you’ve established. It may be helpful to write a list of reasons why you need these limits right now. Keep these on hand and refer to them when you are having a hard time saying no.
It's ok to let go of holiday customs and instead do what feels right for you. This is especially true if you are grieving. Honor your grief and needs right now. Give some thought to what rituals may bring you comfort and what may be difficult to take part in. If you don't want to take part in certain customs, think about what you can do instead. Can you skip out on parts of the day and go for a walk or offer to help with the meal preparation? Maybe the thought of the typical holiday events is too much and you'd rather be somewhere else, doing something entirely different, such as volunteering or taking a vacation.
Whatever you may be dealing with this time of year, know that the holidays will pass. Consider what you are feeling right now and what you think will help. Then make a plan for the holidays with your needs in mind.
Laura Winters, LCSW is a therapist specializing in infertility and prenatal/postpartum stress. Laura's practice is located in Chatham and Mountain Lakes, NJ.