With Daylight Savings Time now a distant memory, fall days are quickly getting shorter and colder, which means “that time” of the calendar year — allegedly a festive season full of friendly family get-togethers, delay-free travel, great food and entertaining holiday TV — is nearly upon us. The reality, however, is far more upsetting.
Your Aunt Sandy always insists on making her cranberry surprise fudge cake with a “secret” ingredient for the annual holiday get-together that always gives you, and almost everyone else in your family, indigestion. Your sister Amanda ignores subtle warnings about your daughter Zoe’s allergies and drags her three dogs along for a week’s stay in your home during the coldest and busiest time of the year, without notice. Your Dad insists on making you watch the annual Thanksgiving Day game between Dallas and whomever, even though you hate the Cowboys with a passion and football even more.
We inflict so much needless stress on ourselves in the name of Peace on Earth and Good Will to All Men, Women and Pets during the holiday season, just to be with our families, that we forget how much we stretch the limits of our health far beyond what’s realistically manageable.
Take that scenario (or something a little close to it) described above, then add a subliminal predisposition toward the negative, and you have the makings of a stress-filled, uncomfortable and potentially unfulfilling holiday season.
Will your memories be Hallmark Moments to cherish for a lifetime or more like Nightmares Before Christmas that are equally unforgettable for all the wrong reasons?
Getting a handle on all things emotional during the holidays is easily within your grasp. With the Holiday Season kicking into high gear before you realize it, all you really need — apart from an awesome gift list — here are 10 reminders to keep your emotions and expectations into perspective and to be generally more mindful about your overall health.
1. A survey of about 150,000 adults from more than 140 countries (representing 95 percent of the world’s population) found that emotions were directly related to the state of one’s physical health. No surprise, positive emotions (happiness, enjoyment and contentment) were associated with better physical health, just as worry, sadness and sorrow reliably predicted poorer health.
Even more impressive, these links were consistent, even after taking into consideration that some respondents lacked some very basic needs — personal safety, food and shelter — evidence that positive emotions increase your resilience and help you rebound faster and better from adversity and stress.
“It’s not that happy people have fewer bad events happen to them,” says Dr. Randy Larsen, professor of human values and moral development at Washington University in St. Louis. “Bad events are inevitable. Instead, happy persons seem to manage bad events better, they tend to bounce back faster.”
2. Stockpile your reserve of positive emotions by making plans in advance and sticking to them. Holiday planning can run the gamut from gift shopping to the time you’ll spend at Aunt Sandy’s for Thanksgiving dinner, and everything in between. Make those lists, and check them twice to avoid loading up stressors, like double-booking holiday get-togethers…
3. Be realistic by not over-committing for the holidays. Life is stressful enough with all the things you must do during the day without the woulda, shoulda, coulda expectations from visiting family members that can pile up quickly.
4. When the stressors begin to build, take a mental health time-out, whether it’s taking a nice hot bath at the end of a long day or spending a few minutes before your day begins by meditating. (Learn more about various mediation techniques here.)
5. If the stress becomes too much to handle and far beyond the simple tips, seek the advice of your doctor or a mental health professional near you sooner rather than later.
6. Because some Americans can gain anywhere from 5-7 pounds just between Thanksgiving and Christmas thanks to big meals and sweets, paying attention to the extra pounds is a must.
7. Staying on nutrition, a recent study found a high-fat, high-calorie diet dulled the pleasure centers in the brains of mice. What’s more, such diets made it harder for mice to consume healthier foods over time, even when those were the only choices available to them. All the more reason to get into the habit of eating more nutritious whole foods, and you can find them, often much more cheaply, at a local farmers’ market near you.
9. Don’t throw out all the good habits you may be already practicing, like getting the right amount of sleep every night.
10. A recent discovery by a group of California mental health researchers is a common-sense reminder about emotions you may have already known for a long time, but it bears repeating nonetheless: It takes real effort and a little stress on your part to learn a new task or improving your abilities, but over the long-term your mind and body will be all the happier for doing it. Experiencing stress in the moment during the learning curve is a given. Enduring a little “pain,” however, can be very beneficial to your overall happiness and well-being in the overall scheme of things.
The very same can be said for mastering your emotions, for your health’s sake, over the upcoming holiday season.
Here’s a bonus tip: Beware of the revisionist science associated with six common mythsassociated with the holiday season, from poisonous poinsettias to over-the-top hangover “cures.”