Oh no! They’re here again! The Holidays!
We love the holidays! And, if we don’t, really, we don’t like to say so for fear of being compared to Ebenezer Scrooge or (good heavens!) the Grinch! It is wonderful to see friends and family, share food and drink and give gifts! But unrealistic expectations, financial pressure, and conflicting commitments can result in holiday stress. Grief, loss, and loneliness are felt more acutely over the holidays, when everything is supposed to be so Darn Jolly. People, including us nurses, can end up feeling terrible. Add in over- eating and over-drinking. Not good.
Of course, research supports the statement that the holidays are stressful. Did you know that more people die between Christmas & New Years Day than any other week of the year? And these deaths are both unexpected and from natural causes? (Philips, 2010). Sansone & Sansone, (2011) confirm what nurses have known for years: Patient complaints of anxiety and depression spike at the end of December Often called “The Christmas Effect”, this phenomenon is attributed to the stress associated with holidays.
The Cleveland Clinic suggests the following risk factors for “the Christmas Effect”:
- Associating the holidays with unresolved family issues or a painful childhood.
- Ignoring feelings of sadness, loneliness, or depression in an effort to maintain “holiday cheer.”
- Facing the loss of a loved one with whom you have shared the holidays.
- Having unrealistic expectations of family and friends.
- Having an expectation that you “should” feel good.
- Being away from family and friends.
- Feeling isolated from others.
- Reflecting on losses or disappointments over the past year.
- Coping with changes in family obligations, particularly after a recent marriage or divorce.
- Drinking more alcohol, which is often more readily available during the holidays. (Avoid drinking alcohol to ward off negative feelings. Alcohol often will make depression worse.)
And, offers some possible solutions:
- Try something new. Plan a vacation with a family member or friend.
- Spend time with people who care about you.
- Volunteer your time to help others. Spending time with those in need can help you feel less isolated.
- Take time to reflect on the religious or spiritual significance of the holidays.
- Try to appreciate the good things you have now instead of focusing on the past.
- Stay active. Get out. Go for a walk. Exercise.
- Accept feelings of sadness or loneliness. These feelings might not go away just because it’s the holidays.
- Get help if you need it. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help any time of the year.
Stress has a negative impact on our health, including the immune system. And, since holiday season usually = flu season, it’s a recipe for disaster. So, it would seem like the smart thing to do would be to remove the stress from our lives. Since this is pretty much impossible, we need to manage our stress. Nurses need to practice extreme self-care. If you need some reminders about this, read on.
The American Psychological Association (2017) offers some ideas for coping with holiday stress.
First, Take time for yourself. You may feel pressured to be everything to everyone. Remember that you’re only one person and can only accomplish certain things. Sometimes self-care is the best thing you can do — others will benefit when you’re feeling less stressed. Reflect on aspects of your life that give you joy; go for a long walk; get a massage; or listen to your favorite music or read a book or magazine. All of us need some time to recharge our batteries. Being mindful is correlated with happiness so focus on the present rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
OK, then you can:
- Set realistic expectations. No Christmas, Hanukkah Kwanzaa or other holiday celebration is perfect. View any missteps as opportunities to exercise your flexibility and resilience. A lopsided tree or a burned brisket won’t ruin your holiday — it will create a family memory. If your children’s wish list is outside your budget, talk to them about realistic expectations and remind them that the holidays aren’t about expensive gifts.
2. Be proactive. If you are concerned about potentially difficult conversations at family gatherings, remember these events are about bringing people together, not driving them apart. Focus on good memories and what you and your family have in common. Plan activities that foster fun and laughter, such as playing a family game or looking through old photo albums.
3. Keep things in perspective: The holiday season is short. If things go wrong, it’s not the end of the world. Remember the good things you have in your life and recognize that this situation will pass.
4. Prioritize. Remember what’s important. Commercialism can overshadow the true sentiment of the holiday season. When your holiday expense list is fatter than your monthly budget, scale back. Remind yourself that family, friends and the relationships are what matter most.
If we keep it all in perspective and practice extreme self-care, the holidays can be pretty wonderful. Or at least entertaining.
Best regards to all!
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For stress relief, watch: The Movie: Christmas Vacation