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Stress and the Holidays:
Coping Strategies to Keep you Sane

By Helen Hunter, ACSW, CMSW

 

Every year, the media bombards us with advertisements showing the “happy family” gathering for the holidays. People from different generations are together, having a wonderful time, sharing traditions of old and creating new ones as well.

It is not that way, though, for a great number of individuals. For those who don’t have families of their own, or for those who live alone and have relatives living far away, holidays often bring heartbreak and depression. Those who have been used to family celebrations in the past and no longer have that to look forward to cannot accept the “change” in the tradition, especially if they keep hearing about others who are getting together with their own families.

There are two things to remember that can help get you through the holidays. The first thing to realize is that it is okay to cry. This can be a tough time for many. It is natural to feel depressed when your friends are having the ideal family gathering. Allow yourself to express your inner feelings.

The second thing to remember is to control the holidays, do not let them control you. This requires planning. If you know that you will be alone on the holiday, start planning ahead for what you will do. Here are some suggestions for things you can do to sidestep the holiday blues:

  1.  If you cannot be with family, try to spend time with friends or neighbors instead.
  2. Get away from the source of the depression. If your home reminds you of past holidays spent with a loved one, go on a cruise, or take a vacation to another part of the country, or go abroad.
  3. Get involved with an activity. Volunteer at a local senior center, church or community center that serves meals on the holiday, or give your services to a hospital. If you know that someone will be alone and cannot get out for the holiday, visit. If the person lives far away and you cannot physically visit, make a phone call. In helping those who are less fortunate than yourself, you can forget some of your own troubles.
  4. Invite others who are also alone to your home to share the holiday. You can prepare a meal for them, or you can go out to a restaurant. Company always helps ease depression.

Be gentle to yourself, especially if you have recently lost a loved one. If you do not feel like celebrating, don’t! If you do wish to celebrate, keep it simple. Remember the TRUE reason that we celebrate the holidays!

The important point to remember here is that if the old traditions cause heartbreak and depression, change the tradition - start a new one!

Also, be sure to review your expectations and be realistic. Not everyone is jolly, generous and loving all through the holiday season. As Wayne A. Van Kampen from the Bethesda PsycHealth Reporter wrote, “ Somehow (during the holidays) persons feel pushed into hiding, covering over, or denying the reality of sadness, fear and tension. Perhaps what is needed most is simply a more honest embracing of ourselves, others, and the realities of life.” Not everyone will have a happy family gathering just because it is the holiday season. Old resentments are likely to resurface, no matter how hard we try, when people are thrown together for an extended period.

In addition, there are a number of strategies that can be used in planning the holiday celebration.

These strategies include the following:

  • Delegate responsibilities and activities so that one person is not taking on more than can be accomplished without help.
  • Do not assume responsibility for the entire household’s holiday happiness.
  • Work minute by minute on your attitude. Postpone becoming angry and show understanding and calmness. This technique should be used not only during the holiday period, but every day!
  • Any task that you have chosen to do, whether it be the cooking, cleaning, gift wrapping, card addressing, organizing, decorating or shopping, is to be viewed as a choice that you made. Try to have fun in tackling these tasks, which will make the holiday easier and keep your spirits positive.
  • Start traditions that make the most sense to you in your life now. It doesn’t always have to be done the same way every year.
  • Do things together as a family that you all truly enjoy.

Make the holiday season a time for you and your loved ones to have fun and to share special memories. When the entire season is over, sit down, relax and count your blessings. Remind yourself as to how lucky you are. When you make an effort to have a joyous, stress-free holiday, you can avoid the stress. The key is to plan ahead, and to ask for and accept help from others.

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