By Eliska Counce, TSB Columnist
I don’t know about y’all, folks, but considering it’s barely December, already there has been an amazing amount of jingle going on at Chez Counce. We’re mere weeks away from the holiday we celebrate at my house, Christmas, and the three children under the age of 9 have demanded so far nothing less than a full-on Santapalooza since the day after Thanksgiving.
Before it’s all over, I will have sat on Santa’s lap, made and decorated the obligatory gingerbread men, caroled myself silly, pasted foam snowflake crafts together, toured the neighborhood for lights, wrapped presents, served hot chocolate and candy canes, dressed up the kids and watched them dance the Jingle Bell Rock at their schools. I fear by Christmas Eve they will be actually levitating a little bit.
It’s a lot, the holiday season, for anyone, if you let it be. How do you maintain mental health while under such elven pressure? How do you grit your teeth, smile, and get your yule on with minimal emotional scarring? Gather around, children:
If it ain’t fun, don’t do it. If you find yourself at a holiday event hissing at your family to have fun already, dammit!, I’m thinking you might want to rethink the purpose of your tradition. My 4-year-old loves the concept of Santa. Santa in person, however, might as well be a jihadist for all the terror he invokes in my middle child. Forcing my child near Santa, whether at a mall or breakfast, is ill advised. Who’s the activity for, anyway?
Acknowledge your feelings. If a loved one has died recently or you aren’t near your loved ones, it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. Take time to express yourself. It’s okay and expected for the holiday season to induce some stress and depression. Seek support through friends and family members. Or seek professional help if physical complaints, sleep and appetite disturbances, irritability, and hopelessness continue past a couple of weeks.
Delegate, delegate, delegate! If you’re hosting, ask others to bring food, or if your budget allows, cater some of the food. If you have friends or family members who insist on home cooked family meals, cheerfully announce you are delighted to serve theirs!
Keep decorations simple. Unless you’re just incredibly passionate about decorating, less can be more. Trust me: women like me will appreciate you for it.
Reconsider holiday cards. These take a lot of time and energy. But you have options! Send them out every other year, send them to only out-of-town friends and family, or just wait until Valentine’s Day when things aren’t so crazy.
Think about how to impart your deepest values to your children. Most of us want our children to realize the value of giving over receiving. This is an excellent time to teach this value. Think about giving to charities in lieu of gifts. Dad doesn’t really need a new tie anyway. Gather up gently used toys that aren’t as popular as they once were with your children, and take them to a local shelter together. Volunteer with your children and teach them the real reasons behind the seasons. It ain’t all about the Furby.
Limit gifts, keep a budget, and stick to it. I can be the worst about buying last minute items that are just perfect for someone…even though I’ve already bought for that person. Remember your commitment to stay congruent with you values by spending wisely. Your children will appreciate happy parents more than any gift. It also takes pressure off of family and friends to reciprocate. In this economy, bling is dead. It’s now hip to consume less and be greener.
Be realistic. Families grow and traditions change. Be willing to find new ways to celebrate and understand that some traditions may not still be possible. Make new and more meaningful traditions that reflect your values.
Set differences aside. Stress levels run high at the holidays. Mix in a little eggnog with too much “nog,” and you can have serious issues. Accept family members as they are and don’t get too upset or distressed if something goes awry.
Don’t abandon healthy habits. It’s tempting to let the holidays be a culinary free for all. Overindulgence only adds to stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before parties: whole grains, fruits, and veggies have the fiber to fill you and cut cravings. Remember sweets send you high before the inevitable crash. Keep up exercise, journaling, time for fun. Take a breather. Fifteen minutes alone can be amazing: steal away to a quiet place (hello, bathroom and trashy magazine!), take a walk at night and stargaze, or listen to some soothing or inspiring music.
Rethink resolutions. I’ve always resented the artificial prompt of the new year to somehow make up for past excess. Instead, just return to basic, healthy lifestyle choices. Make specific goals with a reasonable time line. Resolutions can set you up to failure if you are unrealistic. There’s a reason the Slim Fast commercials air non-stop in January and disappear in February, ladies!
Forget about perfection. One of my favorite holiday movies is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Towards the end of the film, Clark Griswold bares his teeth into a maniacal grin and shouts at his dismayed family: “We’re going to have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby danced with Danny @#$%^&* Kaye!” Clark has gone to extremes to make the holiday perfect for his family…and nearly sent himself to the asylum in the process. Holiday TV specials are filled with happy endings. Sadly, TV is not real life. Problems do not wrap up neatly at the end of the hour. There’s no such thing as “normal,” and we all have our own special brand of crazy that makes our family unique and special. Love the ones you’re with…warts and all. We all need that.
Remember: your attitude is up to you. Lastly, don’t let stress and depression be unwelcome guests this holiday season. Remaining calm and cultivating joy can help defuse any stressful situation, and eyes that are warmed by the heart can see these situations more clearly. Making the decision to ask yourself: “Am I bringing my best self into this situation?” has the potential of transforming any difficult moment. This may be challenging, but it is intensely rewarding. Happy holidays, everyone!