Growing up in Southern Italy, I always marveled at the joy of the holiday season.
I still miss my old neighborhood at Parco Kennedy in Naples, where I lived as a child with my parents. It was a new subdivision, and the small, beautiful trees lined up on each side of our narrow street brought me a sense of happiness and cozy comfort.
As always during the holidays, the stores in our neighborhood were beautifully decorated with bright and colorful lights, giving our street the jolly look of the festive season.
In every country, traditions are made to keep cultures, heritages, and beliefs alive. Speaking of tradition, every holiday season my favorite neighborhood bakery across from our church was ready to share the practice of their culinary culture with the locals and the visitors from out of town. I can still smell the delicious aroma of traditional baked goods, such as rococo and mostaccioli biscuits that our baker, Signor Bruno, made every Christmas.
Looking back, the holiday season was such a magical time. And my favorite part was that cozy feeling of togetherness with my loved ones; thankfully, we did not have the distraction of social media back then.
However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that the holidays are not merry and bright for everyone.
Christmas season for many families is when sadness, loneliness, and grief arise. They struggle with stress and anxiety during a season advertised as “jolly.” But we all know that the season to be merry comes with an added workload. An article I read stated that even those who love Christmas can experience the onset of the holiday blues.
“Even people who love the holidays can experience the blues during this busy season. The holidays are often a time of high emotion and demands, which can leave many people feeling stressed and exhausted.”
According to experts, if we’re feeling overwhelmed and gloomy during the holiday season, we may be suffering from holiday depression. And those who already suffer from a mental health condition are more susceptible to experiencing holiday blues: “According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64% of people with an existing mental illness report that the holidays worsen their condition.”
As I was reading another article about the common causes of the holiday blues and what can activate holiday depression, I came across an item in the list that I’m sure will resonate with many of us:
“Coping tip: Ditch perfectionism. No time to bake cookies for your son’s classmates? Store-bought cookies are just fine. Forgot the wreath? It’s OK. Your family will forgive you.”
While it’s always necessary to keep our mental health in check, it’s even more important during the holidays. Here’s a list of things that help me avoid sinking into emotional exhaustion when all I want is to enjoy the season:
Know your triggers.
First, it is essential to identify the usual triggers that can ruin your day. With all the hustle and bustle during the holiday season, be mindful of how much time you spend browsing on your social platforms. Be aware of what you read online, especially if you’re reading disturbing, depressing news stories non-stop. Remember that all the information that comes to us with only a simple scroll can be energy-consuming, heavy, and exhausting.
Be open about your emotions.
According to Psychology Today, being open about our emotions can benefit our mental health. This is especially important if we’re feeling super stressed from running on the hamster wheel to get everything done. If you’re feeling like this fog of “doing” is hijacking your brain, let it all out. If someone close to you asks you how you feel, don’t say you’re okay when you’re really not.
Instead, be honest about your feelings. It may feel awkward but doing so has many benefits. In the end, the more you practice not suppressing your feelings and letting those close to you know what’s on your mind, the more it can help alleviate your grief and make you feel more connected with others.
Try something new.
Keep self-care in mind by implementing new hobbies, activities, or workouts into your day that may help to alleviate stress and keep the holiday depression at bay. And we can do so many things without leaving our home with the help of YouTube: try a yoga or Pilates class or listen to your favorite music as a way to relax and keep your cortisol levels low. And throughout the day, never underestimate the power of positive self-talk, which is another way to reduce stress.
Ask for help.
One way to avoid feeling stressed out and overwhelmed is to ask for help. Of course, it would be nice if we could wiggle our noses like Samantha Stephens from “Bewitched” to get everything done. But in real life, we need to remember that we’re not bad hosts if we ask our family for help and we’re not imposing on our friends if we need their assistance. If you need help, ask for it.
Make time for meditation.
Our goal during the holiday season should be to keep our stress levels low. Studies have shown that encountering stress in our daily lives can take a toll on our hearts. Practicing mindfulness can help us be more aware of our surroundings, achieve a calmer state of mind, and be more in tune with whatever is happening around us.
Get a good night’s sleep.
It can be a great feeling to stay up late to catch up on our favorite shows or watch a holiday movie after a long day. But remember that getting a good night’s sleep is another way to boost our physical and mental well-being, including helping us manage our depression. And a few extra hours can also help us feel rested enough to start our day feeling our best.
The holidays are about creating new memories with those we love, not about how many gifts we receive or how much we stress ourselves out to make the season perfect.
As humans, we all have the will and the power to make this world a better place. So this year, let’s all find a way to make someone who feels stressed or exhausted smile a bit more. Merry Christmas to all!