Tuesday 12 December 2017

"How to Not Lose Your Mind Over the Holidays"

Wait, what's that "festive holiday party" anxiety?

I have something to tell you, a tiny secret. Come closer. Here it is: not everyone loves Christmas. There. I said it.

If you were to believe everything that you read and watch on TV, you would think that December is four weeks of sheer happiness. For many people, it's four weeks of ridiculously high expectations, stress, low mood and high anxiety. In the weeks leading up to Christmas and Hanukkah we are inundated with reminders that we need to spend more money, buy that perfect gift, host the perfect holiday party, and on and on. Add to that poor weather and reduced sunlight and you can easily slip into depression. Even if you truly do love the holiday season and everything is going great in your world, stress is still there.

I used to be one of those people who LOVED Christmas - everything about it. I planned and hosted a big holiday party for my friends every year. I searched high and low for the absolute, most perfect gifts for my family and friends, and usually started shopping in September. Christmas would almost always be spent with my immediate family and my maternal grandparents; like something out of a Hallmark card - family gathered together to celebrate the season. On the surface, it all sounds wonderful. Look closer and you can spot some cracks in the veneer.

The holiday party that I hosted each year for many years was fun. It was also a lot of work, cost a lot of money and, always, I drank far too much and was left with a horrific hangover, sometimes for two days. I won't lie - I loved it for a long time but when I started to love it less and then, subsequently, stopped drinking alcohol, it was time to end that particular tradition.

As my work life has become busier and depression and anxiety have played a larger role in my life, I have had to become very conscious of what I commit to, whether it's at work or outside of work, and how that will impact my mental health. I don't do a lot of socializing anymore and that is by choice. Add introversion to anxiety and you will learn quickly how vital it is to guard your energy levels.

Start saying no. I am getting much better at this but it's a work in progress. Now, before I commit to something, I ask myself, what will this cost me in terms of my wellbeing? If the cost is too high, it's a no-go.

SHOPPING: What IS the perfect gift?
I have always loved shopping. I remember when I was a teenager taking the bus to the mall on Saturdays and wandering the stores for hours on end. I hated Sundays because the stores were all closed. As I became an adult and began living with a mood disorder, the shopping became something that I used to soothe my bruised spirit. It worked until I would get my credit card bill and then reality would hit me hard. My mood would sink and what was the answer to that? More shopping, of course. It was a cycle that I would live with for two decades and that really did a number on my credit rating. And, full disclosure, it's something that I am still working on.

I also equated the perfect gift with happiness. If I could present the two people in my life who seemed to be the hardest to please at Christmas, my dad and grandpa, with the perfect gift then they would be happy and everything would be perfect. There's that word again.

Stop aiming for an impossible goal - perfection is highly overrated anyway. Something else that I finally learned is this: spending time with someone you love is usually gift enough. Plan a breakfast date or coffee from a local coffee shop and a walk in a favorite park. How about plans to catch a movie together in January? Something to look forward to in the new year is a great idea. Just get off the financial roller coaster: set a budget, stick to it, and be creative.

FAMILY: Brady Bunch or Griswalds?
Our little family Christmases were often stressful and that is the simple truth. My dad has never liked Christmas. My grandpa was a man who was not diagnosed with depression until late in life. As a result, he spent much of his life in a 'bad mood', to put it lightly. He adored his children and grandchildren but he was not easy to be around. So my mom tried to make everyone happy at Christmas. And then as I got older, I tried.

Guess what? It is exhausting and just not possible. I am not responsible for anyone's happiness except my own and neither are you. Set some boundaries and make a plan - decide in advance how you will handle the cranky aunt or the drunk brother in law. Create some space to spend time during the holidays with those who make you happiest. Let go of your expectations and allow people to be who they are, as hard as that can be.

A MONTH OF ZEN: Creating moments of calm.
When January rolled around I always fell from my high and hit the ground pretty hard. It's only been in the last five years or so that I have really recognized how all of this - the search for perfection, the spending, the frenzied socializing - has negatively impacted my overall well being. I am sure it's no coincidence that around that time was when I started to come out of my deepest and most serious depression yet. An experience like that makes you look at everything in your life.

My new approach to Christmas is this: I am intentional about creating my own moments of zen. For me, zen is a variety of things. It's gifting my mom with tickets to an event that we can enjoy together. It's sitting each morning with my nephew, our dog and a cup of coffee - enjoying the peace & quiet before the hectic day begins. It's reading a really great book while snuggled under piles of blankets at night And, sometimes, it's as simple as enjoying the twinkling Christmas lights on the house in my neighborhood. Now that is perfect.

KB xo

P.S. Check out these mental health tips for managing the holiday season courtesy of the Mayo Clinic


  1. Awesome post, as usual. This is my first year, really ever, when I have a partner and her Christmas traditions to think about also. I am working on finding ways to keep at least some of the time calm and doing what I need to do for me also. Thankfully, in both families there are little kids - ranging from 3-7, and I love hanging out with all of them, so that should help. They are busy, and yet there is no real emotional stuff to handle as their moods are still innocent. Soon, I am going to need to find a place to volunteer with this age group as the nephews will continue to grow up.

    And, I totally hear you about anxiety and introversion. Sometimes work is about all the socializing I can handle in a day. Keep posting your thoughts, it helps the world in more ways than you probably know.


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