It’s ironic that a time traditionally associated with good cheer and merriment can turn into a virtual nervous breakdown for so many people. High expectations paint the holidays as a time of fun and joy, and when people don’t feel this way they then feel even worse because they somehow aren’t living up to an idyllic portrait of the season.
This is where physical and mental health play an important role in helping people better manage holiday stress. Experts in the areas of family psychology and health have come up with some sensible tips they hope will provide some comfort and joy to the faithless, weary and frazzled this holiday season.
Avoid family burnout
The classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” portrays idealized images of family harmony during the holidays: everybody gathered around a piano and roaring fireplace, singing carols, merrily laughing and drinking eggnog – with every family member present. In the past, the holiday season was a way for families to take a break from their difficult work life and come together in celebration. But sometimes these gatherings aren’t so ideal.
“When a family comes together for the holidays, some members simply don’t get along with each other for a variety of reasons,” says Dr. Jim Wasner, dean of the Illinois School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University, Schaumburg. “To avoid ruining a family gathering, try thinking of holiday visits more like a special ritual, such as a wedding or birthday party. It’s fine to be on your best behavior and not deal with hurts or grudges because of the special event.”
If you are not on the best terms with a relative and feel like you need to talk to him or her about it, Dr. Wasner recommends you do it one-on-one before the holiday visit, either on the phone, by mail or during a shorter visit. If that is not possible, there is nothing wrong with setting limits on the time that you spend with that relative.
Protecting against health concerns
Santa Claus isn’t the only one who has to worry about a big belly during the holidays so be sure to consider your physical health as a way to help manage your holiday stress. Betsy Kawecki, nursing faculty member at South University, West Palm Beach, believes that major health complaints that surface during holidays, such as gaining weight, are a result of extremes in behavior. Overeating leads to indigestion as a result of increased proportions of food and indulging in foods with a high degree of fat, explains Kawecki. She suggests that attitude plays a significant part on dieting expectations and actions. If you view the holiday season as the last hurrah, you will be more likely to overindulge and gain weight.
Kawecki says that during the holidays, it’s important to maintain health-promoting behaviors, but you should also be flexible. Exercise by speed-shopping in the malls instead your usual walk around the block. Maintain a normal healthy diet and eat your five fruits and vegetables a day, especially on party days. Be a healthy host or hostess by cooking low-fat, presenting food in various locations to promote mingling and not just eating, and making portions small.
Overall pacing oneself is essential, says Kawecki. The holiday season involves more than one day. With holiday shopping, decorating, parties, feasts and traveling, people should worry most about trying to keep balance in their lives and maintaining healthy habits.