By Cordes Simpson
Although the holidays are supposed to bring spiritual meaning, joy, family love, parties and presents, they can also be accompanied by stress, anxiety and depression. The following are five suggestions on how to lower stress and anxiety and hopefully avoid depression.
First, let’s get real about your expectations. If your family gatherings have never resembled a Norman Rockwell painting, then don’t assume that this time it will. In the therapy world we call this “magical thinking.” Maybe this is the year to break from the traditional pain and suffering and do something else. Have an adventure and travel somewhere. Enjoy dinner with relatives in another city. Shorten the amount of time that you have to be with family. Invite friends and co-workers to act as a buffer. I know many of you are saying but “I have to.” “My family will get their feelings hurt.” “It will cause a family rift or fight from which we may never recover.” Only you can decide whether it is worth going to an unhappy occasion that results in fights anyway or make a change. I give you permission to be happy.
Second, decide what you — and your close, immediate family — want out of this year’s holiday experience and then design your plans to fit those intentions. If you desire a more religious and spiritual focus, then plan all the events around the church schedule, help serve at the homeless shelter, sponsor gifts from an angel tree or link it to some other worthwhile cause. If it is a time to celebrate the gift of good friends and positive family members, have a party, or two parties, if you have a lot of people that you are thankful are in your life. Or maybe throw a small intimate dinner party for those who are particularly meaningful.
Third, I am a fan of a plan. I believe in lists, delegation and a team. Sometimes it can be hard to let go of control of every detail. But how is the next generation going to learn family traditions? What will be your legacy if you don’t teach your children how you cook a turkey or if you fail to tell someone the secret ingredient in your famous corn bread stuffing? I challenge everyone this year to create or update a family tradition and to let go of one that serves only to bring grief or anxiety. Also, all of y’all who don’t celebrate a particular holiday because someone died on or near that day, please seriously consider letting it go. Your deceased loved one would not want you focusing on their death but rather would want you to celebrate their life. Remember, their life included holidays! Yes, I know that things won’t be the same but just because they will be different does not mean that they will be bad. Plan something in honor of that person so they are included in the celebrations and will be remembered in an uplifting way rather than the reason that no one is allowed to be happy.
Fourth, my husband believes that the cure for everything is to drink more water, exercise and sleep. Well, maybe his prescription won’t work for everything but it certainly can keep stress, anxiety and depression at bay. Plan some time for yourself. Taking a walk or drive around to see neighborhood decorations, get a massage, enjoy a long bath, find some quiet time to meditate/pray/stare at the wall. Those activities are beneficial to help you maintain balance.
Fifth, do not forget to have a sense of humor. Even the best cooks can burn the sweet potato casserole or forget to make the rice. Sometimes the intricate outdoor lights don’t work the first time. Maybe a relative’s travel will be delayed. Perhaps a gift does not arrive in time. Who knows what could happen, but those imperfect holidays are always the ones that will later be considered the best. The main reason is because everyone got over it and focused on having a great time with each other. If you have a hard time with the sense of humor, watch one of our favorite holiday movies, “Rat Race.” It is hilarious.
Cordes Simpson MAT, MA is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Charleston. She specializes in helping people deal with mental illness, substance abuse and trauma using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and EMDR. She also helps people interested in re-focusing their lives. To contact Cordes, e-mail her at email@example.com.