Holiday Spirit Goes Both Ways
As is my custom with this blog, whenever the world has lost souls due to terrorism and hearts cease to beat, I have been silent as a way to honor those whose lives have been lost. Such was the case the last several days but I believe it is now time to change that habit. We need to honor those lives taken and irreparably changed forever by such heinous acts but we should not be silent. We need to speak out against such depravity of conviction, religion, and peace and let our voices ne heard. It is perhaps the best way we can honor those who have been killed senselessly. The taking of one or more lives will never make the world a better place for others. It is only through positive energy that can happen.
Today we are discussing holiday spirit and if you are like me, you have received social media posts from people lamenting over the loss of their own holiday spirit. Yes there is an element of commercialism involved but we have the choice of making the holidays what we want them to be. Read back through my posts over the last two years and you will find many ways to “pay it forward” which is a great way to find some holiday spirit. However, in case you still need some assistance, please read on.
Holiday anxiety is nothing new and is experienced by most people. For many, though, it is a bit more than just feeling overwhelmed by social engagements, Christmas shopping, and an influx of family. Over fifteen million people in the United States alone suffer from social anxiety disorder and this does not improve during the holidays. “Social anxiety disorder is characterized by the presence of fear or anxiety about social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to possible scrutiny by others,” explained Dr. Kalina Michalska, a research fellow in the Section on Developmental and Affective Neuroscience at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). “The individual overestimates their likelihood of being rejected and frequently fears that he or she will act in a way that will be embarrassing and humiliating.”
There is also seasonal affective disorder. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. For many sufferers of SAD, symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping energy and making them feel moody. However, SAD can also cause depression in the spring or early summer. In some people with bipolar disorder, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania or a less intense form of mania (hypomania), and fall and winter can be a time of depression.
The holidays offer plenty of reasons to be stressed out and anxious — the gifts you haven’t wrapped, the pile of cookie exchange invites, the office parties. But for many, the biggest source of holiday stress is family — the family dinner, the obligations, and the burden of family tradition. And if you’re fighting clinical depression, or have had depression in the past, the holiday stress can be a trigger for more serious problems. “There’s this idea that holiday gatherings with family are supposed to be joyful and stress-free,” says Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “That’s not the case. Family relationships are complicated.”
All of this means that if you are feeling less like Tiny Tim and more like Scrooge, there may be valid reasons. We still need to get through this time, though, and hopefully, find a way to enjoy the holidays, even if you celebrate none of them. Escaping the scent of pine in the air, the red and green decorations that are abundant everywhere, the stockings, the lightly colored trees is not for the faint of heart. If you do celebrate, the stress may be even greater. Finding your holiday spirit might be accomplished of you find a way to survive the season with less stress. The best way to do that might be to take a cue from the jolly symbol of the season, Santa Claus himself.
One web site offered several tips to surviving Christmas with such prosaic advice as “Invite your in-laws; just don’t let them in!” Obviously I am not advocating you do that but the humor might help you through the afternoon. Chances are, they are having some stress as well. Keeping your sense of humor is really the best advice there is for getting through this time of the year. Traffic jams are more common so try keeping a bag of mints in your console to enjoy when stuck in traffic. As you stand in line at the check-out, do some leg exercises by rolling up to your toes and back on your heels (Your calf muscles will really appreciate this!) or even do assisted knee squats using the handle bar of your shopping cart. You might get a few strange looks but odds are no one will notice because they are caught up in their own stress-filled moment.
Suzanne Kane wrote an excellent piece online for Psych Central about this topic. Here are some of her tips for not just surviving the season byt thriving during it. “Think ahead. Whatever it is about the holidays that’s got you out of sorts, imagine whether that same concern will be bothering you down the road. No matter what it is, you probably won’t even recall the gut-wrenching emotions in one or 10 years’ time. This helps you build a cushion against mounting anxiety and creates a little space you can use to safely navigate the holidays this year.
“Celebrate on a different day. Where is it written that you have to celebrate Christmas on December 25? If you’re intent on entertaining folks, especially family or out-of-town guests, scheduling the event for a day other than the actual holiday might relieve some of the pressure. Two days later, two days before, the weekend after — whatever works will do the trick. With adult children, this suggestion is one we really take to heart. Doing Christmas a day or two ahead of time or after the fact does not change the joy at all and allows people to not feel torn between family commitments.
“Stop feeling you have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be the party of the year. You don’t need to be the host whose event is talked about for months to come. If you can make yourself believe that you don’t have to be perfect, you’ll alleviate a lot of stress and accumulated tension. Your digestion will likely benefit as well, since your stomach won’t be tied up in knots over trying to insist on perfection.
“Go away. This isn’t a recommendation to tell people to leave you alone. It is, however, a suggestion to incorporate something new into the holiday schedule this year. Instead of going whole-hog decorating the house, going to and hosting nonstop parties and get-togethers, why not consider going out of town for the celebration? A family ski trip would be a wonderful memory and offer a much-needed change of scenery for all involved. Even an out-of-town trip to a national park or to visit friends or relatives will get you in the frame of mind of going after something new, something different, a place that’s away. Perhaps going away is just what the doctor ordered in order to thrive this holiday season.
“Create something lasting. If you’ve lost a loved one and the holidays are too painful, consider creating something lasting for the remaining family members and loved ones in your life. This could be a family scrapbook, a handwritten letter you put in a “time capsule” of sorts, volunteering to bring joy to the elderly, shut-ins or sick children, or surprising your invalid neighbor with a home-cooked meal. Remember that it’s the thought that counts. If you give something of yourself with love, it will be remembered and appreciated. You’ll also have a warm spot in your heart knowing you’ve helped bring a little joy to others who need it at this time of the year.
“Forgive yourself. Everyone has regrets. You likely have some as well. If you’re beating yourself up for being inconsiderate, not living up to your word, being rude or impatient or mean to others, spending too much money, neglecting your responsibilities, or drinking too much, now is the time for a little self-forgiveness. Your desire to make positive changes actually begins with forgiving yourself. There’s no better time of the year to start than right now.
“Watch your diet. Overindulging in food or drink during the holidays is a surefire way to suffer repercussions later. Not only will you feel remorse, you may have other consequences as a result. By paying mindful attention to what you put into your mouth, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor, now and later. To thrive during the holiday season, exercise discretion and make wise choices in food and drink.
“Be grateful. Finally, this is the season to be thankful. And you’ve got a lot to be grateful for, regardless of how much you’ve thought about it. You’re alive, for one thing. Life is precious indeed. Every day you are on this earth is another opportunity to make a difference, to celebrate life and the deliciousness of living. It won’t come by this way again, so make the most of today. Adopt an attitude of gratitude and you’ll really begin to thrive this holiday season.
“Go small. Instead of fixating on bigger and larger quantities, make a conscious effort to downsize. This goes for the number of gifts you buy, the number and types of social engagements you accept or invite others to attend, trying to get the very best deal on a much-wanted item and so much more. After all, it isn’t — or shouldn’t be — how expensive or exclusive something is. Concentrate on giving from the heart.” I would add that giving a gift that keeps on giving is also great. Donors.org and St Jude’s Children Hospital are two such websites that will help you share the joy and continue the meaning of giving the entire year. No donation is too small nor unnecessary.
We had a rule in our family that family presents had to include homemade gifts. It could be something as simple as copying a favorite verse from a poem, hymn, or pop song that can be framed, a coupon book for chores or hugs, a jar of spice tea or cider/wassail mix, a kissing ball made of real or fake mistletoe, cloves stuck in an orange as a great scented ornament… the possibilities really can be endless. These gifts help balance the budget and also tell the recipient that they were worth the time and effort it took on the sender’s part. That really is the best gift of all, knowing someone cares.
While it is emphasized during the holiday season, every day we are alive is a chance to make a difference and share the spirit of living with someone else. Life is precious and if you are reading this, then chances are, you are alive. That is one thing you have for which to be grateful. I am pretty sure there are others and an attitude of gratitude is the first step on the path of holiday and joyous life spirit.