How to keep it together through the holidays!

There’s no doubt about it – everyday life is hectic for moms! From managing meal plans and paying bills, to helping with homework and coordinating the family carpool – taking care of “mom business” can be highly stressful in and of itself.
But when you add the extra commitments, extra spending, and extra expectations of the holidays to the mix, the holiday season then becomes a recipe for mental health disaster for many moms, including myself!

Various sources (here’s one) tell us that as many as 40% or more of the American population experiences increased depression and anxiety at holiday times. It also makes sense that for moms in particular (according to one APA press release), we all share a slice of this less-than-savory holiday pie, as we’re often the ones taking on so many of the preparatory holiday tasks like decorating, baking, shopping and party planning.

According to still other sources (like this one), some of the factors contributing to higher rates of depression and anxiety at this time of year are increased fatigue (due to more activities and busier schedules), and unmet expectations fueled by overloading our plates with commitments and too much holiday hype in general. Others also experience an  increase in isolation and loneliness when they can’t be with the ones they love at holiday times, and still others fall victim to an over-spending and over-eating vicious cycle which we’re all a little more predisposed to at this time of year.

Considering these stats and a little of my own increased stress over recent weeks (if my 15 month-old breaks one more ornament I swear I’m going to have a nervous breakdown!!) – I’ve been inspired to reflect on a few tips that might help all of us moms fight this ubiquitous stress and manage our mental health a little better for the duration of this holiday season.

1. Be Realistic. – Set realistic goals for yourself and your family this holiday season. This means saying “yes” only to those commitments that you realistically have time for or can reasonably follow through with, while setting flexible parameters for how you can do so with each helping of obligation that you pile on. Keep a visible calendar or list of upcoming happenings and tasks, and assess what or how much you can contribute to accomplish them (whether emotionally, monetarily, or energy-wise). Then decide what feels most important, remembering that it’s okay to say no or scale back your involvement however you need to!

So you have the office work party, your son or daughter’s Christmas play, the PTO holiday bake sale, AND the neighborhood potluck all this same week?! Pick one (or two or three)! And trust that the others will accept your not being there. You can always send a bottle of wine with regrets in your place if it takes some of the pressure off, or negotiate the effort with yourself if you need to – i.e., “I’ll go for an hour – but home with Pinot poured watching Stranger Things by 9:00, STAT”). Also give yourself a little grace with all that you have yet to do, and know that what needs to get done will get done – even if Christmas is only 7 days away and there’s only ONE present wrapped under the tree…

The bottom line is to set small measurable goals and flexible expectations for yourself so that you don’t become over-extended, for this is one of the surest ways to sour what can otherwise be a sweet holiday spirit.

2. Make it Your Own! – Instead of comparing yourself to all the other “Pinteresty” moms out there – with their impeccably decorated homes, beautifully tied bows, and opulent cornucopias of scratch-made baked goods (all organically sourced and gluten-free, of course) – focus on your present gratitudes and the simple meaning of the holiday season for you and your own family.

Whether it’s simple traditions like picking out and putting up a tree, staking out the best holiday light displays, or watching A Christmas Story on TBS re-run for the 864th time, look for what defines the holiday for you and enjoy the simple pleasure in reliving these traditions, soaking in what makes this time of year so uniquely special for those you love (and those who love YOU!). Or, if this is the hardest part of the holiday for you due to a change or loss, look for new ways to honor the season and start a new tradition. Volunteering, attending a spiritual service, or just being around supportive and caring people are all helpful ways to prevent isolation and partake in the generally abundant compassion of others this season.

3. Keep Track! – It’s no coincidence that the blues begin to set in as we respectively start losing our grasp on otherwise normal routines during the holiday season. But we can combat some of this undue stress by simply keeping better tabs on ourselves each day!

For instance, keeping better track of our finances and setting a realistic budget for how much to spend can help  stave off despondent feelings – and keep our bank accounts in check beyond the new year. Keep your check-book ledger up to date daily, save receipts, or check your online accounts frequently to help you remember your purchases. I also have created an email sub-folder where all my holiday online purchases are stored for easy reference (or a quick cash-back return when I realize I spent too much!). All of these, and other financial tips like those found here, can help you to feel more in control of your finances and thus minimize depression that is often related to the financial stress of the season.

Similarly, we tend to eat more unhealthy foods and drink more indulgently at holiday times, which depletes our bodies of the emotional and physical resources to fight off the bad mood blues. Instead, keep better tabs on especially your alcohol and sugar intake – or at the very least work to moderate it to weekends and holiday events – meanwhile drinking plenty of water and eating healthily most of the other times in between. By taking better care of our bodies (more tips to avoid holiday over-eating here!), we stand a better chance of keeping our spirits naturally high  throughout the holiday season too.

While there’s no escaping the general chaos that is these last six weeks of our standardized calendar year, it doesn’t mean that our emotional well-being has to get caught up in all the tangled tinsel.  By gently shifting our outlook and taking a little time to honor ourselves, in addition to everything else that is special about this particular holiday season, we moms can survive the madness with our sanity (mostly) intact, and perhaps even cross the 2017 finish-line with a real smile on our face!

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