|Angel Watching Over the Christmas Village|
Beating the Holiday Blues and Stress
It's that jolly time of year again when many good people are down and blue -- and feeling extra guilty that they can't get into the swing of the holiday cheer like everyone else. How many smiles that we see are really masking depression and stress?
When it seems the odds are stacked against enjoying a merry Christmas season, there are some things we can do to ease our troubles. I know most of these are common sense, but I find myself needing a reminder too, so I'm really just talking to myself! (Yes, I've spent some time in tears this month already, getting frazzled and discouraged!)
Stop and think. Try to pinpoint what is bothering you most.
Now, what two or three small things can you do to alleviate this frustration? Ask God for wisdom. He sometimes speaks in a very still and quiet voice in your heart, so listen up!
Overwhelmed or depressed? Ask for help and prayer. Don't isolate yourself. Call a trusted friend or family member and be honest about your struggles. If they can't help, try someone else. If you can't seem to shake the blues, you might want to meet with a professional counselor or pastor to help you. Also consider hormonal issues like thyroid function (is it time for a medical checkup?) or even just PMS, which unfortunately doesn't take a vacation in December. Be gentle with yourself!
Lonely? You might feel disappointed that no one has called you to get together. They just might be waiting for someone else to do the same for them! You be the one to start. You just might make their day -- or their month! Get together for coffee or whatever other cozy treat lifts your spirits. I'm a hot chocolate with whipped cream lady, and its easy enough to make at home. See here: Hot Chocolate for a Crowd. If you want to avoid the busy Starbucks but still get out of the house with a friend, take a thermos of your favorite hot drink and a container of goodies to a park on a sunny afternoon. And if you don't have a babysitter to watch your kids, take them along and let them loose on the playground while you chat. Not perfect, but probably better than nothing!
Financial worries? Communicate with your family members about your budget. This is a major source of family stress during the holidays. Don't forget to specify amounts for gift giving within your household, gifts to relatives and friends (if you do this), decorations, hospitality, activities, baking, crafts, extra food on Christmas day. Stick to it as closely as you can, and rework the plan if necessary. This could be the year for cutting back on holiday spending. One thing that helps in our house is that our kids don't buy gifts for all of their other siblings. They pick a name and pick one decent gift. Less money. Less clutter. Less time spent shopping. It works! To save time, you can also shop on-line. Check out my other tips here: Christmas Gift Tips from Shopping to Shipping. diet.
Exhausted or sluggish? Get your sleep! Don't try to burn the midnight oil getting everything done. An afternoon nap can work wonders. One of my favorite strategies is to lie down for a little bit after the dinner rush to get my second wind for a few things I can do after the kids go to bed, like doing an small organizing project or reading quietly. Later in the month, this might be wrapping presents! (But don't use that as an excuse for staying up too late!) Also, watch your diet. Too much sugar, caffeine and/or alcohol can do a number on your energy level, even if it gives you a momentary boost. Stock the house with healthy snacks. Find nutritious alternatives to holiday favorites or substitute whole grains and reduced fat ingredients. Bring a festive green and red fruit or veggie tray to a potluck meal.
Out of focus about "the reason for the season"? Work a simple Advent remembrance into your daily schedule. For us, this is singing carols, doing a Scripture reading from a weekly list in our church bulletin, and reading our favorite Christmas books. We do this each weekday morning in December in place of regular school, which keeps them more "on track and out of trouble" so they aren't too much at loose ends. Routine is good. Remembering the joy of Jesus is even better. You can also put some favorite inspirational Christmas music on. If you don't feel like listening to bouncy stuff right now, find something contemplative and relaxing, like quiet instrumentals. Or, if you don't feel like Christmas music at all, just put on any music you really like. Be aware of what music helps to lift you moods and helps you remember God. Jesus is still the reason for the season, so settle your soul and drink of his grace. Read: An Invitation to Stillness.
Kids going wild? Taking time off school for the holidays is a break for all of us, but if the schedule is too loose, they sometimes get rowdy or start acting up out of boredom or lack of motherly attention. In addition to the Advent activities I described in the previous paragraph, you can easily find ways to keep your children busy with a variety of activities, such as making presents or cards, going to the playground, inviting a young friend to visit, writing out Christmas dinner menus or invitations, reading for pleasure, making up skits, watching Christmas videos, working on household organization projects with you, cleaning out old toys in their closets to give away, etc. More ideas here: Advent Adventure Unit Study and Great Gifts Kids Can Make for Others. You can also have a friendly discussion with them if they are really driving you nuts. Sometimes they just need a quiet reminder. (OK, so that doesn't always work, but it's worth a try!) I wrote an Advent poem last year for this blog, and in the commentary, I talk some about handling frustrations with children. You can find it here: Grace Will Lead Me Home.
Too busy? Adjust your expectations of what you need to do. Write out your "to do" list for the month, then break it down week by week or day by day so it's manageable. You have the right to say "no" if something doesn't fit your priorities and abilities right now. If you can't cut something out of your schedule, can you minimize its impact by simplifying it or asking for help? Big tasks are more fun when we do them together! If a friend helps you with a project, maybe you can help her with one, too! Just remember the scheduling rule: Simplify Your Christmas!
Bored? Try something new, such as a carol, craft, or holiday recipe. Start a new tradition. Buy a new Christmas book each year. Find a new holiday outing to enjoy, such as a free concert or living nativity at a church. Go for a drive with the family and look at holiday lights. Try to remember the best neighborhoods from year to year. Bring your camera! This is one of our favorite family traditions that we never miss.
Spazzed about decorating? Don't feel like you have to decorate everything at once, and don't be compelled to put out every single decoration you own if you don't like them (Read the Nester's blog about this topic: Master of Your Domain) Little by little. Group like items that go together visually. Put fragile or valuable items out of reach of curious little ones or rowdy older ones. (We've already broken two glass ornaments this year, but at least they weren't heirlooms. I did cut myself on one, though!)
Too many messes? Try to keep your house in order -- not perfect but reasonable. It's hard to enjoy holiday decorations if other clutter distracts the eye. Review "a place for everything" and give your kids some basic training in tidy time. Set the timer and see how much you can get done in 15 minutes. Or have everyone go into the messiest room and put away 10 things each. If you are taking off time from regular school work, use some of it for homemaking instruction. Make sure that baking cookies is part of your home ec class, too! Too blue to clean house? You can do it! My sister-in-law sent this link: 6 Ways to Clean House When You're Depressed
Discontented? Ask yourself whether or not you are focusing too much on your own desires and expectations for the season. Christmas is not about getting, whether it is gifts or invitations or other forms of attention. I find the best way to shake holiday me-ism is too look for ways to serve others. This might take the form of a care package for someone in need or someone who is just plain lonely. It might mean a phone call or a handwritten note. It might mean a family service project. It might be inviting someone for Christmas dinner, perhaps a friend or new acquaintance who has no family in the area, or an international student who is far from home. (This is a joy! It is no sacrifice when you catch the spirit of it. It helps kids practice hospitality, too!) It might just be noticing the subtle pain in a friend's eyes or voice and asking how they are doing. (That means really listening, too, and actually following through if there is something you can do about it.) The picture book An Alcott Family Christmas by Alexandra Wallner, recounts how Louisa May Alcott's family once gave away their own Christmas goose feast (which they had scrimped and labored for) to a poor, and then made themselves another dinner of bread, potatoes, and apples. J-O-Y! Jesus, Others, Yourself.
At odds about holiday plans? People have different ideas about what makes a merry Christmas season, whether it is about how much time to spend on activities, whether to travel to see relatives, how you decorate, how to allocate Christmas money, and what kinds of food to eat. We need to be prepared to cooperate and make reasonable accommodations without totally neglecting our way of doing things. You may also wish to evaluate what kinds of demands -- spoken or implied -- that you are placing on others or that they are placing on you. Talk about them and work it out! While we should value togetherness, we don't have to do everything with the whole family. You could plan activities with your children or friends that your husband might not prefer to do. If you have adult children who have families or friendships of their own, be careful about setting expectations on them for joining family activities. Our policy is, we are delighted if they can make it home for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, but if not, we aren't offended. We'll catch them some other time. This year we had Thanksgiving dinner a day late because my husband and I were out of town celebrating our 25th anniversary. I imagine that in future years, we might just plan on a regular Friday Thanksgiving meal so that we don't run competition with our kids' in-laws. After all, we have 10 kids and could disrupt an awful lot of other family plans if we insisted on everyone being with us on the exact day! Last year, my daughter and son-in-law went to Puerto Rico with friends for Christmas, so we had our big family meal a few days ahead of time. It really doesn't matter to me which day! Flexibility is a huge buffer against stress and conflict.
In conflict? People will let you down and fail to meet your needs, but you can't base your life and moods on that. As much as possible, cut them some slack, have a heart to heart chat, let it go, move on. When you get frustrated about something stupid that happened, try to laugh instead of yelling. We all need a lot of grace, and an outburst is only going to make it worse. Read: Stop, Drop and Roll (How to Deal with a Conflict!) If you have on-going conflicts, try to resolve them as peacefully as possible. This does require some humility, but don't get sucked in to false guilt other. You may need confidence to gently confront, too. Read: Handling Family Issues and Visits During the Holidays.
Grieving? Find a way to commemorate a deceased loved one, such as giving a charitable gift to an organization he or she would have appreciated, or participating in a favorite activity you did together, or looking at photo albums or family videos. Don't try to bury your grief. You are allowed to cry. More here: A Bittersweet Advent.
Frazzled? Make ample time for quiet reflection, especially when you are feeling stressed. Get out a journal and start writing whatever comes to mind. You do not have to organize this or worry about grammar. Just let it flow! Scribble pictures if that helps. Many of your buried thoughts just might bubble up to the surface to you can understand yourself better. Read here: The Dance of Hope and a Note on Journaling. Savor the little moments, the small joys. Count your blessings and see how they add up! Start a gratitude list, like my friend Debbie's: A Fragrant Aroma: 100 Joys – Week 1
Finally, let me leave you with a Christmas carol that you may have never heard before. It's one we've been singing at church and at home this month, and it speaks directly to those who are discouraged with life. You can listen to it here to learn the tune: Lake Baldwin Church Advent Music.
"Arise the Kingdom is at Hand"
Johann Rist, 1651 in German
Translated into English by Catherine Winkworth in 1858
Arise, the kingdom is at hand,
The King is drawing nigh;
Arise with joy, thou faithful band,
To meet the Lord most high!
Look up, ye souls, weighed down with care,
The Sovereign is not far;
Look up, faint hearts, from your despair,
Behold the Morning Star!
Look up, ye drooping hearts, today,
The King is very near;
O cast your griefs and fears away,
For, lo, your help is here!
Hope on, ye broken hearts, at last
The King comes in His might;
He loved us in the ages past
When we lay wrapped in night.
Look up, ye souls weighed down with care,
The Sovereign is not far!
Look up, faint hearts, from your despair,
Behold the Morning Star!
The Lord is with us now, who shall
The sinking spirit feed
With strength and comfort at its need
To Whom e’en death shall bow.
Hope, O ye broken hearts, at last!
The King comes on in might,
He loved us in the ages past
When we sat wrapped in night;
Now are our sorrows o’er, and fear
And wrath to joy give place,
Since God hath made us in His grace
His children evermore.
O rich the gifts Thou bringest us,
Thyself made poor and weak;
O love beyond compare that thus
Can foes and sinners seek!
For this we raise a gladsome voice
On high to Thee alone,
And evermore with thanks rejoice
Before Thy glorious throne.
Drop me a line if you need to talk!
Joy and peace to you and yours,
Merry Christmas, friends!