We are about to climb into our cars, board planes, or open our homes to family members and friends to celebrate an American tradition: coming together at the Thanksgiving Day meal, tossing around the ball for a friendly game of flag football, and figuring out how on earth we were ever comfortable sleeping on those tiny, double-sized twin beds.
This year has another special feature to integrate. How do we integrate or avoid arguing with people over conflicting views about the the new presidential administration and proposed changes? And what, if anything, does this have to do with your mental and emotional health?
You tell me. I mean, literally: you all have been telling me over the last two weeks. People are reporting that they are thinking about this challenge. People are asking me what to consider as they make plans to spend time with family, friends, and community members, as its citizens discuss their views of the future under a new president and administration.
And some are already changing plans, based on what is happening in their homes and friend’s home, with some of that decision having nothing to do with the election. They have long-standing conflict that has been lingering for years.
Read on for more tips to consider before you meet together.
What is it about the holidays that often lends us to believe people are just a little “off”? You know what I mean: cranky people, impatient drivers, obnoxious sales pitches, wacky shopping behavior, mopey faces, whining children, stressed-out spouses and partners. We can try to blame it on the phases of the moon or any number of temporary and situational causes, but when it comes down to it, all you want to know is how to survive the end of the year without losing your mind. Here are a few end of the year sanity tips.
1. Take a little time to breathe. Breathing is good. If you don’t know how to breath, try breathing just from your tummy. Slow your breath, so each breath becomes deeper. Stop at the top and bottom of the breath. When it feels comfortable to breath into the tummy, then add the middle of the chest and the upper chest. Perhaps when you breathe out, you can let go off all the crazy and stressful thoughts that are bothering you. When you breathe in, you can invite peace, presence, and attention into your mind.
2. Eat and sleep well, but do neither in excess. Definitely fill up your sleep bank and eat what you need to fuel yourself, but also consider balance so you don’t end up feeling groggy and sick from oversleeping and fattening foods.
3. Look your loved ones in the eyes without saying a word. Look upon them with love and compassion, as if you might not see them again for a long while. You’ll see so much more in them, and it will help you look through their weaknesses without over response.
4. Laugh. A lot. Laugh until it hurts. Laugh until you are pretty sure you’ll become hypoxic. Then return to point #1.
5. Move your body around. You were meant to move. I know I’m repeating myself through the year by telling you to move around. Every time you move, you become aware of your intimate connection with yourself. You’ll treat yourself better and better when you can actually FEEL the “you-ness” of you, including your body.
6. Look at something beautiful. If there is nothing beautiful to look at in nature around your home or work, look at beautiful pictures on the Internet, or listen to beautiful music. Beauty softens us, even when we’re constantly bombarded with stories of loss, abuse, violence, tragedy, and deep suffering. Beauty allows us to face those things with a strong and courageous inner life.
7. Take your medications. Medications include vitamins and minerals, supplements, and whatever else holds your body together. If you’re on psychotropic medication, don’t go off it because it’s the holidays. If you are taking Vitamin D therapy, don’t forget to get some UV rays by going outside.
8. Cultivate moments in the art of doing nothing. Young working professionals seem lost to this art. If you don’t understand this, try meditation in very small time slots (i.e. five minutes at a time), and attend to your breath. See how calm your mind can be when it isn’t being forced to work on anything.
9. Kiss. You don’t have to play tonsil hockey. I mean, kiss kids on the cheeks, kiss friends and family (forehead, cheeks, where appropriate), kiss your pets, and kiss your lover.
10. Let go. I often watch people go a bit nutty after an altercation or difficult conversation. They can’t seem to let go, and their unhappy feeling ruin the next few hours or days because of their choice to ruminate. Let go.
The Seattle Direct Counseling office will be closed from Dec. 26, 2011 through January 2, 2012. I’m getting some much needed rest for a few days, and I’ll also be preparing for the restructuring of my practice to include both my time at the office, adding an Associate, and preparing for a part-time return to Nursing to continue fulfilling my career goals and licensure requirements. After January 23, 2012, there will be more available daytime hours for appointments. If you have referrals, now is the time to refer them! If you need business cards, please let me know.
As a therapist for ten years, you could say that I am an “expert” at noticing patterns of behavior in people. Now that we’re in the middle of the holiday trio (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day), it is not uncommon to hear my clients talk about something I refer to as, “The Holiday Blues”. In fact, it is such a common phenomenon, it ought to have its own hashtag on Twitter! If you know you get a bit depressed, cranky, and stressed around this time of year, this is the article for you.
What are the Holiday Blues? The signs and symptoms mimic a situational depressed mood: feelings of stress or panic, fatigue, changes in appetite, withdrawal from friends and family, feelings of sadness and loss, unexplained over-responsive anger, loneliness, and insomnia. With the depressed mood can be some mixed anxiety from the stress that may be present around holiday times.
Rx For The Holiday Blues. Too bad there isn’t a pill you can take to treat HB symptoms. But there are a few things you can do that will likely reduce the depressed feelings mixed with anxiety.
1. Schedule “down time” for yourself. Do not pack your schedule too tightly. Let your mind rest instead of forcing it to dash around as you carry it here and there. My pick: do a some light yoga stretches, take a hot bath, listen to quiet music.
2. Prepare for family visits with some encouraging but realistic self-talk. Lower your expectations, and avoid highly charged conversations where shameful and embarrassing situations may emerge. Aim for one meaningful moment per day with them, where you make a note to yourself to enjoy something about being together.
3. If the holidays mean eating large quantities of sugar and fat, plan accordingly so you don’t experience the associated mood swings. Increase your water intake, and include activities away from the restaurant and the kitchen. Taking a a walk after a meal can be a way to get a little movement in.
4. Watch your spending, and physically record your spending somewhere you can see to avoid credit card bill shock mid-January. Many people turn to retail therapy to feel good, or we simply lose track of the added expenses of gift giving and holiday partying. Create a budget, and do not give yourself excuses to break that budget in a way that will put needless stress on you during the following billing cycle.
5. Give yourself permission to acknowledge losses and change. The family may have lost or gained new members, or the holidays might remind you how time continues to march on regardless of your best efforts to remain still. You might need time to grieve, cry, or laugh hysterically over those changes. Both laughter and tears can be therapeutic.
What I’m describing here is congruency of feeling and expression. Repressed emotions can emerge during highly stressful times when we feel the expectations of others. While it’s good to know exactly how you feel when these emotions emerge, they don’t always come up at a time it’s appropriate to share them with someone else. Find healthy ways to express those emotions: record them in a journal, share with a trusted friend, take a walk by yourself, scream in your car, or talk to a therapist.
6. The Holiday Blues can also be associated with the lack of sunlight if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. I’ve posted information about this in my article about Vitamin D and sunlight. Vacation time in a sunny place, UV light exposure, or a special light box made to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder can help lift the winter blahs.
Note: if you’re having more than occasional thoughts about harming yourself or taking your life, put a plan in place to help you feel safe. Call a friend, talk to a crisis line counselor, or call your therapist. You do not have to face this alone.
This year, you don’t have to be out with the Holiday Blues. If you have suggestions for how you beat the Holiday Blues, please submit your comments here, or send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll reprint them anonymously.