By Dr. Mercola
While Christmas is traditionally perceived as a holiday of good cheer and togetherness with family and friends, the reality of the season is less than bright for many.
This year in particular, financial struggles may be on the top of your list of emotional and psychological stress factors.
This may be the first time you’ve approached the holidays after receiving a diagnosis of cancer, or some other serious illness. Or perhaps this will be your first Christmas without a loved one you lost recently; the feelings of sadness and loss paralyze you at times.
Maybe you haven’t had any success in finding a new job since you were let go, and you feel guilty and depressed that there won’t be many presents for your family under the tree this year, so much of the spirit to celebrate eludes you.
With all these potential pitfalls, what can you do to safeguard your emotional and physical health this Christmas?
While there are no magic bullets, there are strategies you can employ to make this holiday season the healthiest it can be.
And even if you’re not coping with emotional or financial stress, your physical health can still take a tumble during this time of year.
Decreased vitamin D production, and the temptation to overindulge in sweets can seriously weaken your immune system. Add to that a hectic schedule of cooking, shopping, and entertaining, and you may well find your stress levels spiraling out of control, making you vulnerable to sickness.
Practical Tips to Lighten the Christmas Blues
Professional therapists typically see a 15 percent increase in people seeking help at this time, as Christmas can bring personal problems to the foreground. Since Christmas stands for family togetherness more so than any other holiday, it is the time of year when you may become acutely aware of the void in your life, magnifying feelings of isolation and loneliness.
If the blues have you all wrapped up, exercise can be one of your best allies. Mild to moderate depression can be alleviated with this one strategy alone, without resorting to potentially dangerous drugs. It’s one of the best kept secrets for treating depression.
The practical problem with using exercise in depression, however, is that the desire to pursue any activity, let alone exercise, can be quite low or nonexistent. However, please know that once you get over your initial resistance, physical exercise stimulates endorphin production, which helps to combat depression. So remind yourself you WILL feel better once you’re done.
Another effective energy psychology tool that can be used alone or in conjunction with exercise is the Meridian Tapping Technique (MTT). This simple technique can help you successfully address underlying emotional triggers.
It is important to remember though that it would not be wise to rely on treating yourself for serious problems with MTT, as effective self-treatment for serious problems is rarely effective. This is somewhat analogous to a surgeon removing his own appendix. While it is technically possible, it just simply isn’t a good idea. In that case, you’ll need to find a skilled MTT practitioner to help guide you through the healing process.
Optimizing your diet is clearly another important step, both to address the emotional aspects of the blues, and keep your immune system going strong.
Two of your most important DO’s include optimizing your vitamin D levels and making sure you’re getting enough omega-3 fats. The top two DONT’s include gorging on high-sugar foods and sweets, and succumbing to the lure of alcohol. Although you may believe it’ll wipe away the bad feelings for awhile, alcohol is actually a depressant, which can make you feel even worse than you did before.
How to Reduce the Holiday Stress Factor
Unrealistic expectations are one aspect of the holiday season that can make you wish it was over before it started. I think it’s important to realize that most people’s holidays are not nearly as “picture perfect” as you might think, or that TV commercials portray them to be. Few are capable of pulling off the perfect fantasy, no matter what time of year it is. So keep your expectations realistic, based on the time you have available and your financial situation. And don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
Overspending during this time is another major source of stress for many. Vow not to spend beyond your means. Set a holiday budget and stick to it. Going into debt to buy gifts, decorations and lavish amounts of food is the perfect recipe for a guilt-ridden, unhappy New Year. My best recommendation is to indulge your creativity instead.
There are many ways to create a festive atmosphere without spending a fortune. My suggestion to all of you is to share your favorite creative ideas for fashioning gifts or decorations on a strict budget with other readers in the Vital Votes section! It can be your gift to the larger community of people you don’t even know.
Another way to reduce your stress is to make a concerted effort to realign the focus of the holiday to reflect its spiritual message rather than the commercial one. You may need to discuss how you and your family will do this, as it can take many forms depending on your beliefs.
Here are a few more tips that can help you keep your sense of balance when stress threatens to take over the show:
Be gentle on yourself, and give yourself permission to say “No”… It really is okay to take special time for yourself. If the holidays have you feeling down for whatever reason, indulge in the things that make you feel happy, whether they’re holiday related or not.
Seek out people who make you feel better, and avoid people who add to your stress or contribute to your depression.
Regain a sense of control by scheduling no more than one or two manageable goals per day, even if they’re as simple as writing a few cards, or cleaning a small section of a room. The satisfaction of completing these tasks can add to your sense of well-being, and help you get everything done, over a longer period of time.
If a certain tradition causes more stress and discomfort than joy, give yourself permission to do things differently! Remind yourself that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas. Ban the word “should.”
Focus on what you and your family want to do for the holidays instead of what other families are doing.
Take advantage of online shopping instead of rushing through malls.
If the thought of cooking Christmas dinner gives you a headache, arrange to have friends and family over to help you cook ahead of time, hold a potluck dinner, or make a reservation at a special restaurant instead.
How to Get Free WiFi on Your Holiday Plane Travel in the U.S.
If you’re going to be traveling by air this holiday season, you can take advantage of free Wi-Fi to make your trip more entertaining (or productive). The following codes are good for one free session of Gogo in-flight Internet, so please enjoy it!
Codes that Expire December 31, 2009:
Codes that Expire January 7, 2010:
Take Ownership of the Holiday by Realizing What You’re Grateful For
Christmas can be a wonderful break in the daily routine that pervades the rest of the year, or it can be the most stressful of times – it’s up to you. If you decide that this season is about celebrating life and love, and keep that as your number one priority, there’s no telling what your holiday may end up looking like, but I’m willing to bet it will be very special.
On behalf of everyone here at Mercola.com, we wish you a very Merry Christmas!