Tips to dial down the stress and keep the holly-jolly in your holidays this season.
We all know the routine. The gifts need to be purchased and wrapped, cards signed, parties attended, turkey stuffed, travel plans made, family and friends brought together. And if you're entertaining it all needs to be pulled together in perfect Martha Stewart holiday style.
This on top of the usual day-to-day demands of work, caring for children and/or elderly parents and other chores – not to mention the financial worries of paying for all the gifts, travel arrangements and other holiday extravaganzas. No wonder we're stressed, exhausted and in some cases, even depressed.
But there are ways to bring more peace and joy into the holiday season. More realistic expectations, planning ahead and asking for support are just a few ways to ward off the holiday blues. In fact, the Mayo Clinic offers these 12 tips:
1. Acknowledge your feelings. If a loved one has recently died or you aren't able to be with your family or friends, let yourself feel sadness or grief. Take time to just cry or express your feelings. Just because it's the holiday season, you can't force yourself to be happy.
2. Seek support. If you're feeling isolated or downhearted, reach out to family members and friends, or community, religious or social services. Consider volunteering at a community or religious function. Getting involved and helping others can lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. Also, don't be a martyr -- ask for help for organizing holiday gatherings, as well as meal preparation and cleanup.
3. Be realistic. As families grow and change, traditions and rituals often change as well. Hold on to those you can and want to, but accept that you may have to let go of others. For example, if your adult children and grandchildren can't all gather at your house as usual, find new ways to celebrate together from afar, such as sharing pictures, e-mails or videotapes.
4. Set differences aside. With stress, expectations and activity levels high, the holidays can be rife with family conflicts. This is the time to practice both patience and forgiveness. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion.
5. Make a budget -- and stick to it. Before you go shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend on gifts and other items. Then be sure to stick to your budget. If you don't, you could feel stressed for months afterward as you struggle to pay the bills. Look for creative gifting options, such as donating to a charity in someone's name, giving homemade gifts or instituting a family gift exchange.
6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and, if possible, make one big food-shopping trip instead of numerous smaller ones. Expect travel delays, especially if you're flying.
7. Learn to say no. Believe it or not, people do understand if you can't take on certain projects or activities. If you say yes only to what you really want to do, you'll avoid feeling resentful and overwhelmed. If it's really not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
8. Don't abandon healthy habits. Don't let the holidays become a culinary free-for-all. Some indulgence is OK, but overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Try to get plenty of sleep and schedule time for physical activity.
9. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, can be enough to refresh you. Restore inner calm by taking an evening walk under the stars or by listening to soothing music.
10. Rethink resolutions. New Year's resolutions can set you up for failure if they're unrealistic. Don't resolve to change your whole life, but set smaller, more specific goals with a reasonable time frame.
11. Forget about perfection. Your life is not a holiday TV special. Schedules go awry, the roast may be over-cooked, old arguments dredged up. Accept imperfections in yourself and in others.
12. Seek professional help if you need it. If feelings of sadness, anxiety and/or hopelessness combined with an inability to sleep or face routine activities persist for several weeks, talk to your doctor. You may have depression.
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