Isn’t it odd how everyone talks about how wonderful the holidays are, while for many, the opposite is true. But many of us have this program happening, from the time we were wee tots, remembering how excited we were to wake up and see the presents under the tree (if we were lucky enough to have presents under the tree). This creates many mixed feelings, of being both stressed (and anxious), and joyful about the holiday.
As we age, the appeal of presents may no longer capture us, but the idea of lounging around, eating our favorite foods, watching movies, or socializing with loved ones, feels appealing, when in fact those very things tax us in ways we often seem to forget.
Every year I find that the combination of eating sweets, and being around old dysfunctional family patterns, is a demanding combination. And my family is actually pretty easy going, and very small (so I really don’t have a lot to contend with).
For me it’s not so much anxiety, but the physical and mental lethargy, that results from this challenging combination (and then the ensuing irritability that results from feeling both taxed, and tired). Regardless of whether it is lethargy, anxiety, depression, anger, fear, resentment, shame, guilt, or any other strong emotion, it is a challenge. And (this is important) it is in your hands to be able to manage and minimize these challenges through more self-care and compassion.
I understand that it does not often feel like we have any control over what goes on within family dynamics (it is true, we cannot stop Aunt Sally from being rude and condescending), but we do at least have control over how we will manage ourselves in response to what comes up.
We do get to decide if we want to spend time with family, and for how long we will spend time with them. We also get to decide whether or not we will drink excessively, or go for a walk, or get a good sleep, etc. Basically we get to decide how we manage ourselves, which will affect how we come out on the other side. (Even if the way we manage ourselves is simply to forgive ourselves for over-indulging).
There are in fact many things that you can do to begin to manage the holiday in a way that is more uplifting for yourself, filled with greater compassion and self care than you may have given yourself in previous years.
Here are a few simple tips that are quick and easy to incorporate into your holiday season this year:
Holiday Tip #1: Bring healthy food into the mix
I know it’s easy to load up on chocolate and goodies, but remember to eat some fruits and veggies as well. They are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but low in calories and fats. Eating these alkaline foods will help your body to maintain some balance through the holiday, counter-acting the negative effects of the other foods you may over-indulge in.
What does this have to do with managing anxiety or depression (or other mental challenges)? Many studies have shown the direct affect diet has on our mental health, including depression and anxiety. More specifically, getting these vitamins and minerals will help to decrease both depression and anxiety greatly:
Most importantly, eating all of these foods (not all at once, lol), works well as they tend to work synergistically, amplifying the overall outcome. In general, eating a variety of whole foods will work best in creating a more nutrient-dense diet.
Know too that anti-anxiety medication (and other medications) can deplete the body of nutrients (particularly B vitamins and magnesium), so making sure to get them in your food, is crucial. Incorporating good quality supplements can also be helpful when you are not getting enough nutrients in your food.
Lastly, one easy fix to get more nutrients easily, is to take a good quality greens supplement. These are usually packed with nutrition, and can help to compensate when you don’t get all of the fruit and veggies you need. (There are many on the market. I recommend one that combines any or all of the following: chlorella, spirulina, barley greens, seaweed, wheatgrass).
Holiday Tip #2: Allow yourself to say no
We all have times over the holiday (or otherwise) where the pressure feels like too much. This is especially true if you suffer from anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges. And sometimes we just need to say no. It might mean that you miss out on an event or party, but there will usually be more opportunities to socialize. If you absolutely cannot say no, then give yourself permission to show up only for a short time.
Maybe saying no means not driving five hours to see relatives this year, rather staying cozy at home with immediate family. Maybe saying no means going to bed early rather than staying up until 2am watching that B movie that you could have done without.
I don’t know what your ‘no’ is, but listen when it beckons, your body will thank you for it.
Holiday Tip #3: Get the rest you need
I find if my mind is busy, or I’m in the midst of a crazy week, then it is more difficult to sleep deeply, yet it is the time when I need to sleep deeply the most. Taking a good quality magnesium supplement (studies show that most people are deficient in magnesium, which has a whole host of amazing benefits) can really be helpful for creating a deeper sleep. (Take at dinnertime, as it is best taken on a full stomach).
There are also a whole host of great natural supplements specifically made to help with sleeping. One of my favorites is Dream Release by Mega Food. (Always check with your doctor to make sure there are no contraindications for taking a supplement if you are taking other medications).
Lastly, creating a relaxing nighttime routine can be extremely helpful in inducing a more sound sleep. This may include an Epsom salt bath, meditating, doing some gentle stretching, or reading a mindless novel. Whatever the routine, let it signal to your body that it is time to wind down and relax. This will naturally allow the sleepiness to kick in, so you can drift off into a deep slumber.
Holiday Tip #4: Set realistic expectations about yourself (and others)
Don’t assume that this time will be different. Remembering that you may be in for some challenges, is important. Not to dwell on the negative, that is not what I am referring to. This is more about being realistic about what may transpire, and also about how you will manage those events. Coming up with some action plans may be helpful. For example if Uncle Tom always drinks too much, or Aunt Lily belittles others, you can choose beforehand, how you might handle those situations.
For me I often find that I need to relax about others’ behaving in ways that I don’t like. Now I’m not referring to putting up with things that are offensive or hurtful. Rather I’m talking more about realizing that we are all human, and we all have traits that are irritating to others. When we can begin to relax about others’ irritating traits, this also gives us permission to relax when we too do not live up to our own (*way-too-high) expectations.
If you are on the opposite spectrum where you tend to allow others too much variance, then perhaps your version of planning ahead is more about setting clear boundaries for yourself, so that you don’t end up exhausted and depleted at the end of the holiday.
Holiday Tip #5: Acknowledge your feelings
One of the most important self-care tools is this very simple (but often difficult) tip, acknowledge your feelings. If you are sad, there is no need to put on a happy face. Neither to dwell in depression (or drink/eat yourself silly), but to allow sadness to exist. You may find that sadness (or whatever the predominant emotion is for you) can exist also within happiness, or relaxation, or any other host of feelings.
The technique of observing our own feelings without judging them, is the premise behind the widely practiced Vipassana meditation technique (which means ‘to see things as they are’). Simply allowing what is, without trying to change it or fix it, can be a very powerful catalyst.
Many people think that allowing things to be as they are means encouraging things to be that way. The opposite is actually true; not until we accept where we are at, can things shift and transform for us.
Acknowledging and accepting where you are does not mean that you will be there forever. It means that you are there in that moment. And, who knows what the next moment could bring…
These are five simple tips that can transform your holiday, or you after the holiday. I hope they were helpful. If you enjoyed this article, or have any comments, please share them below. I’d love to hear from you.
My prayer for you is that you are able to manage this holiday season feeling calmer, more grounded, with more peace in your heart. If this is not the case, and everything still feels completely unmanageable, try to relax about that. Somehow this simple acknowledgement might make things feel a little easier.