Holiday survival guide

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We can enjoy—not just survive—the holidays

By Matthew Schrader

Looking for ways to enjoy—not just survive—the holidays? Consider these 12 ways to handle the 12 days of Christmas.

1. Live in the now. Many of us have had conflict with our family members. The holidays can exacerbate emotions. Set aside prior conflicts in order to enjoy time you have with family.

2. Monitor your expectations. The holidays are usually portrayed in the media in an idealized manner. The truth is that the relative that was obnoxious last year will be probably much the same this year. Reduce your expectations for another’s behavior, and you’ll be happier.

3. Moderation is key. Opportunities abound to overeat, under-exercise, overspend and to keep going until you’re exhausted. Stick to your budget and exercise regimen. Get enough rest and eat healthy snacks prior to holiday parties. Stay grounded and healthy.

4. Take a break. Make time to be alone, go for a walk, read a book or find other ways to slow down when you’re feeling stressed. Interrupting a hectic day in one of these ways can be a game changer.

5. Remember lost loved ones. We often feel the loss of a loved one most keenly during family gatherings when the person’s absence is magnified. Take time to reflect, laugh and cry together. That’s what family is about.

6. Bottoms down. Don’t rely on alcohol or drugs to cope with holiday stress. Choose other ways to celebrate.

7. Make plans but be flexible. School is out and adults are on vacation. Sounds great! But, as creatures of habit, we function best on schedules. Plans can and will change over the holidays, but even if only 70 percent of what you plan happens, a schedule can foster a sense of order during the season.

8. Avoid the crowds. A 2011 Consumer Reports survey indicates 68 percent of people dread the crowds and long lines that come with holiday shopping. Plan your trips to stores on days and times that minimize this issue.

9. Be compassionate. Parents of young children are often stressed by the meltdown opportunities the holidays present to their youngsters. If you know someone with young children, help entertain them or meet other needs so the parent can enjoy time with adult family members. Judging kids’ behaviors and offering parenting advice, no matter how well-meaning, can increase anxiety. Be supportive of limits the parents set for their children even if you don’t agree.

10. Set boundaries. Rushing the entire holiday season to fit in visits with every relative who wants to see you can diminish the enjoyment. Scheduling visits for off-holiday weekends at other times of the year will reassure relatives that they are important to you.

11. Volunteer. If you find yourself feeling jaded and cynical this holiday season, volunteer. Volunteering allows us to connect with others, make new friendships and recapture the joy that selfless giving can afford.

12. Holiday blues? Many people struggle with depressive symptoms over the holidays. These symptoms often mitigate once the holiday season is over. Seek professional help when there is persistent, serious impairment in one or more of these areas: sleep, appetite, energy or activity level, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, trouble thinking and concentrating and/or recurrent thoughts of death.

Matthew Schrader, a licensed clinical psychotherapist, works at Prairie View offices in McPherson, Kan. He compiled this list using some online resources. For additional holiday coping skills, see www.mayoclinic.com; www.nmha.org; www.psychologytoday.com; www.consumerreports.org and www.webmd.com.

Prairie View, a faith-based, private behavioral and mental health services provider in central Kansas, offers behavioral and psychiatric services for all ages as well as consultation services to businesses and organizations.

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