‘Tis the season! The holidays start out in similar fashion each year, kicking off with the best of intentions as a mother setting out to make the perfect Christmas for the kids. Then come event invites – a celebration with his side of the family, your side of the family, friend’s Christmas, and the work holiday party. Next, the Kris Kringle preparations. First, playing seek and find for the coveted gift your kiddo has requested in a letter to jolly old St. Nick. Second, the quest to buy meaningful and reasonably priced presents for other close family and friends. And third, don’t forget the school play, classroom party, and the work project that is launching in a few short weeks.
Before you know it, it’s happened. The fun has turned stressful. You are overwhelmed and the season has taken a hold of your schedule and spirits. You become ‘a mean one’, Mr(s). Grinch, before his heart grew 3 sizes. Lacking patience and time, you blow over tree decorating, crafts, and building holiday memories with your wee ones.
At its worst, you snap back impatiently at the little loves in your life. Immediate regret sets in as alligator tears roll down her cheeks as she only wanted to play with her mommy. Another epic #mommyfail and disappointment felt by all parties involved. The emotional toll of the holiday and its demands on time, energy, patience, and flexibility has reached a breaking point. And just like that, you have become part of the 64% of people that say they are affected by the holiday blues1.
Make this year different! Prioritize your mental wellness for you and your family and enjoy the winter wonderland around you. Here are a few tips on how!
- Sleep. Zzzzzzzzs are the first to suffer when schedules tighten and one of the most important factors to maintaining the merry in Christmas. Sleep deprivation weakens the prefrontal cortex’s ability to control the amygdala2. What does this mean? In short, lack of sleep decreases the ability to reason and regulate emotions. Additional struggles related to inadequate snooze time include inability to concentrate or regulate growth and appetite, and impaired cognitive function leading to a bah humbug mood, grinchy downbeat thoughts, and poor self-control.
On the bright side, the unhelpful side effects of too little sleep can be prevented and treated. The easiest way is to establish and maintain a regular sleep cycle and good sleep hygiene habits3.
- Deck the halls with moderation. Spoil yourself but be practical. Be cautious not to overindulge in holiday cookies, jolly juice, and eggnog. It’s easy to justify just one more tasty treat or delicious drink, but this will often end in regret and guilt. Dabble in the sweets in moderation and balance with routine physical activity. Keep the Sugar Plum dancing in your dreams and not your stomach.
- Stay present. In a world full of technological stimulation and hurried schedules, it takes practice to be within the moment. Through mindful exercise, such as meditation, intentional, also called meaningful living, can be regained. Mindfulness is a powerful antidote to the Scrooge-y attitude with its focus on centering and reflection.
Staying in the moment through mindful practice reduces stress, improves focus, emotional regulation, emotional intelligence, empathy, respect, resilience (the ability to overcome everyday challenges), creativity, and collaboration. Start small, focus on breathing – listen and feel your inhale and exhale – for 2-minutes. Recognize thoughts that creep into your mind, dismiss them, and return to your breath. Stop and observe your kids applying the same practice and enjoy their imagination, conversation, and presence in the same room without the distraction of racing thoughts.
- Let it go. Listen to the legendary ice princess and ‘let it go.’ Elsa makes a compelling point. Maybe being super mom isn’t doing it all. Saying no can be hard but saying yes to everything can be harmful to mental health maintenance. Journal your priorities early on this winter. Be agile in your plans but lead with what is most important to you and let the rest go. Keep the frozen magic of Christmas without becoming icy and cold to those who matter the most.
- Address grief. The yuletide provokes smiles and joy, as well as tears and pain, particularly in the absence of loved ones who are no longer able to share in tradition. If you’ve undergone loss, surround yourself with a support system composed of family and friends this season. Talk about old traditions and memories while making new ones. Shed a few tears when needed. Loss is tough and no one should go through it alone.
If you know someone who experienced a recent loss, reach out proactively and demonstrate your support through becoming their Secret Santa or performing random acts of kindness. Let them know you are there for a cup of hot cocoa to talk or a snow ball fight to distract.
- Seek help. Are the bah humbug blues taking over? Is a depressed mood, stress, or anxiety consuming your December? Sometimes the stressful season tips individuals into a place that they cannot, or should not, manage on their own. Talk to a counselor or other healthcare professional. Discussing what you’re feeling may be all you need to get back on track. Some folks may benefit from medication. If you are feeling stuck, review your concerns and examine best next steps with your primary care provider or local clinic practitioner.
Overwhelmed? If you or someone you know is in crisis, whether suicide is being considered or not, please call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor 24/7. You may connect with a trained crisis counselor 24/7 for free crisis support through the Crisis Text Line by text messaging NAMI to 741-741. For additional valuable helplines, click here.
1National Alliance on Mental Health. (2015). Tips for managing the holliday blues. Retrieved 2 December 2019 from https://www.nami.org/blogs/nami-blog/november-2015/tips-for-managing-the-holiday-blues.
2You, S.S., Gujar, N., Hu, P., Joelsz, F.A., & Walker, M.P.(2007). The human emotional brain without sleep – a prefrontal amygdala disconnect. Current Biology 2007 Oct 23; 17(20):R877-8.
3National Sleep Foundation. (2019). Retrieved on 2 December 2019 from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/sleep-hygiene.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.