Sitting down to write this blog, I find myself want to send out a beacon of love, comfort, and strategy for everyone who struggles with the holidays. This post will probably be TL;DR, but if you have a hard time with the holidays, please stick with me!
This time of year can be very difficult for many of us. The constant noise and commercialism of seasonal marketing. Traffic. The obligation of spending time with people that feel harmful to our well-being. Delicious food that makes us ill when we eat it. Custody arrangements. Grieving a lost loved one, the absence of their presence painful to bear. Whatever your reason, difficulty during the holidays is not an unusual experience. So, let’s talk strategy for creating some ease over the next few weeks. Having a plan can help enormously with many of these challenges.
When I have this conversation with patients, the first thing we talk about is protecting their self-care needs to feel at their best. Some examples include:
- Introverts should actively schedule alone time on their calendars, so that when they are invited to holiday events, they already have their recharge time blocked out. At multi-day family gatherings it’s ok to run to the grocery store or go on a walk if you need a few minutes to yourself.
- Sensitive people may need to limit holiday marketing and commercialism. Save your holiday exposure for things you enjoy or need to attend. Try online shopping for gifts and groceries, or listening to music you enjoy with earbuds in when you do need to go out. Stream a Netflix series instead of watching shows with ads, or mute the screen and do a few stretches during a commercial break. Spend some time every day outside: that cool gray damp stillness is incredibly calming and completely different than the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
- If you are grieving, give yourself permission to honor your loss. It may help to write a poem or a toast, share stories of them, have a good cry, or visit their resting place. For more support, consider reaching out to a grief support group online or at a local healthcare facility or church.
- Continue to take your supplements and medications, even with schedule changes and traveling. Make sure you have enough of your prescriptions to get you through comfortably.
- If you have a health condition that are affected by stress and indulgence, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, or anxiety, plan some appointments with your support team: naturopathic doctors, massage therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and therapists will all mitigate the impact and help you recover.
The second thing I recommend is practicing intentional indulgence. Whether it’s an eggnog latte, Seattle’s Best truffles on every office desk, or the constant stream of Christmas cookies, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy a little holiday cheer in the form of delicious splurges! It’s unrealistic for us to go through the holidays expecting complete avoidance of ourselves, but it’s also hard on our mental and physical health to accept every opportunity. So choose, choose in ways that support your health and nourish your well-being. Consider:
- Holiday drinks come in small cup sizes, decaf, and non-alcoholic. You can also share desserts or select small serving sizes at holiday outings.
- Limit the unplanned splurges and keep healthy snacks on hand. Know that there will be samples at the grocery store and candy canes on your co-workers desk. Be prepared by loading up your car, purse, and office desk drawers with nuts, protein bars, or energy balls. You’ll find you have an easier time making healthy choices when you’re on the run if you don’t have to work to do it.
- And finally, save your indulgence for the things you actually really love, and enjoy them fully. Whether it’s leftover pumpkin pie for breakfast, Aunt Thelma’s Yule log cake, or your church’s Christmas cookie exchange, these traditions and experiences are part of what make the holidays special and are the ones you want to prioritize for your indulgence.
The third thing we talk about are healthy boundaries and the power of ‘no’. This is often the hardest thing for people. It is ok to not participate in every holiday opportunity, or to participate in a limited capacity. Here are some other strategies to consider.
- Expect resistance. Stay calm, consistent, and kind. Repeat your position as often as you need and offer alternatives. ‘I know we usually do XYZ, but I don’t think I can make that work this year. I still want to do something/get together, how about ABC’-or- ‘I’m sorry, I know that’s disappointing, what do you think about ABC.’ It may be helpful to practice saying these things before you need them.
- Limit exposure: offer to meet for tea instead of lunch, attend dinner and dessert instead of a whole day visit.
- Plan a visit for a less emotional time. It is ok to say something like, ‘I really want to see you but I’m feeling (tired, stressed, overwhelmed, etc.) from holiday craziness. Can we get together when things have calmed down?’
- Be busy: sign up to volunteer at local shelters. Many need help with things beyond meal serving on a particular holiday, such as sorting donated goods or delivering meals. Animal shelters are often short-staffed this time of year as well, as their regular volunteers may be traveling or they have an increase of people wishing to adopt a Christmas pet.
Phew! That was really long! Thank you for staying with me. I hope these strategies are helpful for you as you move through the next few weeks. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you find you are struggling and need more support.
As usual, this blog is for general health information only, and does not constitute personalized medical advice.