2019 is fast approaching and for some of us the December holiday has finally arrived. 2018 has been a year of note and like the rest of the world, South Africans were taken on a roller coaster.
We experienced water –and electricity shortages; dangerous polony; the inauguration of a new president; the explosion of Gupta-gate; belt-tightening VAT-increases; credit-rating downgrades; and the death of historical figures. Many of us were left hoping for something that would “protect me from yourself” while our environmental, social, political and economic landscapes changed at the speed of light.
With all of that and more behind us, we’ve reached that time of year which is known for its family get-togethers, celebrations and unfortunately, its holiday stressors. Here are some tips to help you cope.
Manage them. Whether it’s expectations you carry about family members, the food you’ll be serving, whether the decorations are festive enough, or whether it’s those unspoken expectations that you hold of yourself: stick with reality by managing your expectations and allowing things to not go as planned.
Be realistic about your family members. Chances are that the hoped-for changes in people’s personalities or characters may not have happened since the last time you saw them. Acceptance of them as they are can go a long way towards managing this kind of stress.
It’s okay to skip obligated visits. For some, spending time with family is a wonderful experience. For others, it is a dreaded experience that may include criticism of them or their lifestyle; abusive relatives (not just physical but emotional too); an inability to let go of past hurts causing repeats of the same fights each year; financial implications; or a family-hangover that lasts for days afterwards. If you need a time-out, take it. Be kind when you say no, and try to be cognisant of the fact that family-members may feel disappointed or may not respond positively when you let them know. However, don’t let their reaction put you on a guilt-trip.
Spring clean your family traditions. Traditions are meant to create meaning, but if they are overwhelming and serve no purpose other than adding stress to your holiday experience you are allowed to consider some of them as having become obsolete.
Make a realistic budget and stick to it! When January rolls around, you probably won’t even remember that you didn’t splurge on those “must-have” novelty festive decorations, but you will certainly become aware that you’re now required to live on 2-minute noodles for the next month. It’s also okay to tell your children that they can’t have something that they want. Teaching kids that instant gratification isn’t always possible and that it isn’t always healthy is important.
What about home-made gifts or experience-gifts (like going out to dinner or doing something fun together) instead? If you are so inclined, it may assist you in avoiding those dreaded mall-excursions where your senses are assaulted by loud, crowded, brightly coloured holiday-cheer as you search endlessly for the perfect, budget-breaking gift.
Figure out what’s really important and what isn’t. We can’t physically be in two places at once and live to tell the tale. If you’re finding that you’re presence is somewhere but you’re present somewhere else, forego the pressure to attend every event and stick to the ones where you really want to be. Give the stress of rushing from one holiday obligation to the next a rest this year, and see whether this lowers your stress.
- Your sense of humour:
Keep it! Sometimes laughter truly is the best medicine.
- Your focus:
Shift it from everything that’s going wrong to what’s going right. Let yourself be thankful, practice gratitude.
- Your routine:
Stay in it. You’ve worked hard to set it up this year. Eating properly, exercising, and sleeping enough are still important during the holidays.
Keep it up. Make time for yourself to enjoy things, to take care of yourself, to rest.
Reach out. This can include spending the holidays with friends, or volunteering at an organisation that helps others.
Accept that it’s there and allow it to exist. As hard as it is to acknowledge, no amount of avoidance or denial is going to change the reality that the person whom you loved is no longer there. Holidays are especially hard for people who have experienced loss. Show compassion to those who are grieving – including yourself.
It’s key. Alcohol may seem like a good way to de-stress during the holidays, but it may not be an effective coping strategy and may leave you feeling even lower the next day. Be especially wary if you are on medication (in particular those related to managing mental disorders): overindulgence of alcohol may counteract certain medications’ effects, or even be contraindicated and may have negative consequences for your physical and/or mental health.
May the rest of your 2018 be as stress-free as realistically possible, and may your holidays contain very few (and if possible, no) visits from the Grinch.