Hope for the holidays

December 13, 2010

Reduce stress with financial budgeting

Red, green, and the blues: how to keep some positive spirit in the season

It's that time of year again - you know, the time when we share all the wonders of the year and the blessings of each other's company, when we're grateful for all the good things we're given and even more grateful for the things we give, and ... bah, humbug!

That's the kind of thinking that gets people upset at the holidays: no wonder so many can't help but feel they're somehow missing out on being part of a perfect picture.

But remember: while we may hope for perfect holidays, we can make do with the ones we're handed, because, guess what? We're human!

Meanwhile, here are some tips for helping you make the best of your holidays this year. Cheers!

Three triggers of holiday stress

A great article by the Mayo Clinic
says the most important first step to getting around the holiday blues is to know your "triggers" - that is, the things that can upset you. Keep them in mind as you go through the season, and plan some survival strategies to help keep things on track.

According to the Mayo experts, the top three holiday triggers are:

  • Relationships. People are often on edge during the holidays, and relationships can be tough at even the best of times — especially family relationships when you're all thrown together for a few days. And then there's facing the holidays without a loved one, which can be really hard and leave you feeling lonely and sad. But don't forget: It's only a season, and these are only feelings. You can survive them.
  • Money. Gifts, travel, food, hospitality: the holidays can create financial worries for months to come. Having a budget and sticking to it can make life so much easier.
  • Physical wear and tear. All that extra shopping, running around, and social time can make even the jolliest souls downright grumpy. So turn to your good "friends" from the rest of the year - sleep, exercise, and good nutrition. They're your best defenses against being tired and stressed, and if you don't get enough of them you can get physically sick too, which is no fun for anyone. After all, the best way to take care of others is to take care of yourself.

And 10 tips for dealing with it:

The Mental Health Association of Illinois and the Mayo Clinic have made good lists of tips for surviving the holiday season without losing your good humor. Here are 10 of them:

  • Don't ignore your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holidays, especially if you can't be with loved ones because of distance or death. Know that it's normal to feel sadness or grief and that it's OK to cry or let your feelings out in other ways.
  • Reach out.If you feel lonely, look outside yourself. Community, religious, and other social events can be wonderful chances to find support and companionship. Helping others is also a good way to lift your spirits and make new friends.
  • Be realistic. As families change and grow, traditions often change, too. Pick a few to hold onto, but also be open to new ideas. For example, if your adult children can't come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together through pictures, e-mails, or videos.
  • Put aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, and set aside grievances until it's a better time to discuss them. And be understanding if others get upset when something goes wrong. If you're feeling stressed, there's a pretty good chance they are, too.
  • Stick to a budget. Before you go shopping, decide how much money you can spend. Then stay with that number. Huge numbers of gifts or food doesn't create real happiness, so save your money and make less mean more.
  • Plan ahead. Set aside days for shopping, baking, visiting friends, and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your list to avoid last-minute scrambles for forgotten things. And don't forget to get help for party prep and clean-up.
  • Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no is an instant way to feel resentful and overwhelmed. Friends will understand if you can't join every project or activity. If it's not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, take something else off your schedule to make up for the lost time.
  • Don't forget healthy habits. Eating or drinking too much only adds to stress and guilt, so try a healthy snack before holiday parties so you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese, or drinks. And don't forget your old friends: sleep and exercise.
  • Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Many people find that just 15 minutes alone at peace refreshes them enough to handle everything they need to. Take a walk at night and look at the stars. Listen to soothing music. Find something that clears your mind, slows your breathing, and restores inner calm.
  • If you need it, find professional help. If you still find yourself feeling sad or anxious, unwell, unable to sleep, irritable or hopeless, and unable to face routine chores for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Your local phone book has listings, and you may be able to find help online, too.

Whatever you do, there's no need to go through the holidays alone if you don't want to. And there's no sin in reaching out for help. In fact, you might be helping someone else and not even know it. It is the season of giving, after all.

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