December is my favorite time of year. I love the holiday season, the arrival of cold weather (and dare I say it? Snowfall!), sweaters, cute boots, and holiday decorations. I celebrate Christmas, but regardless of the holiday you celebrate, I love the overall change in attitude I see in the vast majority of people during this time of year. I love putting up my Christmas tree and buying gifts for the people I care about. I am also fortunate enough to live a short train ride from New York City, which as far as I’m concerned, is the best city in the country and absolutely magical during this time of year.
I know, however, that not everyone feels the same way about the holiday season as I do. It can be a really stressful time. Family obligations, financial constraints, pressure to participate in social gatherings, and a variety of other reasons are very real sources of anxiety for people. On the flip side of that, many people feel alone during the holidays and therefore, the holidays can be a great source of sadness. Unfortunately, on top of the typical stresses that come with the holiday season, 2020 was kind enough to deliver us a whopper of a year, complete with a pandemic.
Keeping this in mind, I’ll do my best to tackle some of the stressors that might crop up for you during the holidays, but target it toward this year in particular.
The holidays always put on an extra strain on our bank accounts. Extra food and drinks for holiday meals/parties, the expectation of buying gifts, gift wrap for the aforementioned gifts, etc. are all additional expenses that we don’t typically have throughout the year. In a normal year, this can be overwhelming. With COVID-19 protocols in place in varying degrees across the country, many people were either temporarily furloughed or are still furloughed. Some businesses are suffering because people are being more frugal and as a result, the business isn’t not making the same income that they had in prior years. All of this adds up to the fact that any extra cost becomes a greater burden to bear.
If this sounds like you, it’s important to remember that you’re not the only one going through this. You’re not alone. We all get it. If you have to choose between putting food on your table and buying gifts, do what is best for you and your family, not what societal norms expect you to do. The holidays have never been about presents or even what the actual gift given is. It’s the thought behind the gift. If you really feel like you need to give something, why not make a homemade present (for example: home-baked cookies) or write a thoughtful handwritten letter or card? It’s more cost effective than buying an expensive gift from a big name department store and because it came from your heart, more special.
Many of my clients complain every year about all of the holiday parties and gatherings that take place from Thanksgiving all the way to New Year’s. The number of late nights and high volumes of food and alcohol can create havoc on newly developing fitness routines, nutrition plans, and other healthy habits that people are working on. Again, that’s just during a normal year. Now lets add the cherry of a pandemic and state-issued protocols to the top of that ice cream cone. I realize that not everyone has the same stance on the social protocols in place right now, but whether you’re someone who believes that small and/or socially distanced gatherings is an acceptable course of action or someone that believes that it’s more appropriate to hunker down in your private home and stick to Zoom social get togethers, there can be anxiety or pressure that comes with that decision.
To recap, we’ve got food stress, potential alcohol stress, and stress that comes from pressure about whether or not you should spend time with friends and family during a pandemic. Lets see if we can break each one down individually.
Food: don’t starve yourself beforehand in a bid to “conserve calories.” By the time you arrive, you’ll be ravenous and any attempt to curb eating will go right out the window. Eat a healthy, well-balanced meal beforehand and you’ll be less likely to overeat.
Another tip is to slow down while eating. Take a bite of your food and then put the fork down while you chew (instead of inhaling the food). Pause in between bites. Slowing down allows your digestive system process the sensory input it receives. You’ll probably find that you’re satiated (full) before you thought you’d be. If you don’t give the system time to digest the information it’s receiving, it can’t send the signal to the brain that you’re at capacity, so you just keep shoveling food into your piehole.
Alcohol: Drink a glass of water before every alcoholic beverage to slow your roll. Drinking a glass of water between beverages will help keep you hydrated (helping to stave off a potential hangover) and also help you “feel full,” leaving you with less room for more alcohol (which, I’d like to point out, will also help you stave off a potential hangover).
On the other hand, if you don’t drink at all, you may find yourself at the unfortunate receiving end of peer pressure (yes, this still happens with adults sadly enough). Sal is sober and doesn’t care to explain himself to people he doesn’t know (and he shouldn’t – it’s no one’s business). Rather than having to deal with the incessant questions – why aren’t you drinking? Can I get you a drink? etc. – he simply nurses club soda all night. He never lets it get empty so that he doesn’t need a refill and no one questions what he’s drinking in the first place.
To attend/host a social gathering or not: You have to do what’s right for you and your family. Stressing out about what other people are doing won’t help you or your mental health. Other people’s actions are beyond your control. If you’re someone who is uncomfortable with the idea of any gathering outside the folks you’ve been living with, don’t force yourself to do something that doesn’t feel right just because someone is pressuring you to do so. Zoom, Skype, GoogleMeets, Facebook Messenger, and FaceTime are all adequate options to still see one another safely. If you’re someone who still plans on participating in a holiday gathering, do the right thing and follow your state’s mandates. Furthermore, don’t peer pressure folks who are uncomfortable with the idea to conform to your way of doing things.
Not everyone has a supportive and loving network of friends and family. Many people are alone and during this time of year, being alone can feel particularly hard. If you find yourself relating to this, please know that you are not the only one who feels this way. Also, please know that you’re allowed to feel this way regardless of what your current situation is. It is not okay for someone to tell you to not feel a certain way or to “get over it.” That’s BS. Honor your feelings. That being said, please don’t suffer in silence. Talk to someone. Whether it be a friend, relative, neighbor, colleague, or a neutral third party. In New York, Governor Cuomo set up a hotline for people dealing with anxiety during this stressful time – 1-844-863-9314. Also worth noting is that the CDC has a list of mental health resources, including a distress helpline. Most therapists are practicing remotely, so you can still get aid during this time. Don’t let the pandemic prevent you from getting the assistance you need.
Get it all done
Has anyone watched A Bad Moms Christmas on Netflix? It’s a ridiculous movie (but I’ll admit to have enjoyed it thoroughly), but it does bring up a good point. In the movie, Mila Kunis’ mom, played by Christine Baranski, is a Christmas Dictator. Nothing her daughter does is “good enough” for the Christmas spirit. In fact, she even states that moms aren’t supposed to enjoy Christmas. Moms are supposed to suffer in order to ensure that their children have the most magical Christmas possible. Everything has to be perfect. Granted, the movie exaggerates the circumstances for comedic effect, but this pressure is a very real thing. As much as I love Christmas, I fall victim to this mentality sometimes as well. I want the house to be decorated perfectly. I want the holiday cookies to look and taste perfect. I want the gifts to be wrapped prettily and for everyone to feel special and cared for. If Christmas could be my full time job, I’d be Santa’s right hand woman. Unfortunately, that’s not how life works. All of us have adult responsibilities to take care of without adding any additional holiday work to the mix.
Budget yourself. Make a checklist of items that need to get done and prioritize. What is a “must do” item and what is an “I’d like to do” item? Focus on the “must do” items first. If you find that your plate is full, ask for help. You’d be surprised at how helpful people can be if you only communicate what you need. If there’s time and you have the energy to do so, tackle the “I’d like to do” items. Lists help you to organize your timeline and make it less likely that you’ll forget something further down the road, which may cause unnecessary stress. Plus, once I check an item off my list, I always feel a sense of accomplishment and it gives me a little pep in my step. If you don’t get to something on the “I’d like to do” list, let it go. There’s a reason you prioritized that item lower on your check list. It’s really not that important. This is the time of year for appreciating and spending time with your loved ones and for being grateful for what you have. It’s not the time of year for perfection. Your friends and family love you no matter what, so don’t get so tangled up in the nonsense that you forget to enjoy yourself.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself. It’s really easy to get swept up in the whirlwind that is the holiday season and forget to take a break. I know we all get busy and time seems to fly by at the speed of light when you feel like you need more of it, but it’s important that you budget time for yourself, even if it’s only 30 minutes a day. What do you like to do for yourself? I enjoy wearing an Arbonne face mask while reading a book, usually snuggled with one of my cats. One of my friends loves getting her lashes done and I have a training client who looks forward to her weekly nail appointment because they find it relaxing. I have a yoga student who loves to knit and another who enjoys painting. It doesn’t matter what it is that you choose to do for yourself, only that it’s for you.
As I said earlier, this is the time of year for appreciating and spending time with your loved ones and for being grateful for what you have. If you’re burned out, you can’t possibly enjoy the holiday and you open yourself up to a number of negative side effects. Burnout can zap you of motivation and energy, leave you feeling hopeless, cynical, and/or resentful, and leave your body vulnerable to illness. Here is the link to a great article that details how to recognize whether or not you’re on the road to burnout, symptoms of burnout, and tips on how to manage burnout. Also, in case you didn’t see it in an earlier point, the CDC has a list of mental health resources, including a distress helpline. Most therapists are practicing remotely, so you can still get aid during this time. Again, please don’t let the pandemic prevent you from getting the assistance you need.
Do you have any other suggestions or tips on how to survive the COVID-19 holiday edition? Comment below!