December has finally rolled around, leading smack into the season that makes some of us cheerful and others downright tearful. The holiday season is a jam-packed period for already frazzled parents. There are social obligations, presents to purchase and cards to send out. There is food to prepare, halls to be decked and less time for sleep and exercise. We spend time with friends and family we love, although we may miss some who are no longer with us or can’t be with us. We also, more than any other time of year, have forced moments of time spent with people we would rather avoid in the “wonder of the season.”
Ask any woman about how the holidays are shaping up and guaranteed you will see her flinch before answering. When I am asked how my holiday preparations are going, I feel like responding as the character Buddy in the movie Elf: “I passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel.” Bam, the holidays are here and they are stressful.
It is no surprise that more people are depressed during the holidays as they juggle obligations and expectations. Psychologists have classified this state as “the blues.” It is a short-lived form of depression that subsides after the holidays. Further, the National Transportation Safety Board shows Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s to have among the highest accident rates of the year and it’s not just due to weather and drinking. There are more people on the road, but there are also more distractions and also lots to do in a shorter period of time.
Although we may not be able to hibernate during the December craziness, there are some coping tactics we can use that do not involve vast amounts of chocolate and wine:
- Lower Expectations. The holidays can never be and have never been perfect. “Perfect” does not exist other than in movies and stories of fiction. Your house does not need to look like the cover of a women’s magazine. The artistic director was paid to cover every square inch of the mantel for the photo shoot. You live in a real house with dust.
- Drop Obligations. Make a list of everything that you think needs to be done. Does every item truly need to be accomplished or are you doing it out of habit and perceived duty? Now, cross out some items. Really. Just do it, it will feel good. Will anything bad happen if you do not make five pounds of peppermint bark or go to the holiday party? After you manage the guilt, you just might find that you are less resentful and more cheerful.
- Reduce Irritations. Take a deep breath and make sure you prioritize preserving yourself, not the jar of lemon curd. If some gatherings are particularly rough for you, give yourself the excuse to leave early or postpone interactions until after the holidays.
The holidays don’t go on forever; at times it just seems like it. Give yourself permission for this not to be “the best holiday season ever.” Let it be merely in your top 10. This gives you nine slots to fall and still feel good so you can focus more on people and activities that make you happy. Making the holidays more manageable can also help us count our blessings rather than our problems.
Carol Lewis Gullstad December 3, 2012