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How to Keep it Together During the Holidays

Yay! This is my first post on my entertainment and mental health blog. Yes, it may sound a little strange, but there is an intersection between entertainment and mental health. The things we watch impact the way we think which in turn impacts how we perceive the world which can alter how the world perceives us. Yada yada yada! We'll have time to talk about that in the future. Anyway, today’s post focuses on something ever so timely, the Holidays! Dum, dum, dum!!! We've been fed the Leave it to Beaver, version of Christmas where Mom is wearing her Christmas inspired apron and single handedly cooking an exquisite and effortless meal while Dad shovels the drive and the kids set the table. While reality has our kids acting more like Lord of the Flies, the electricity shuts off because a transformer's out, "that" cousin is coming...the one that does everything perfectly, and your husband is frantically wrapping gifts (badly, might I add). There are so many emotions one can feel during the holidays but it tends to violently ricochet between reminiscent and joyful and full of dread and sadness. If you plan on keeping it together during the holidays like I do we have some serious preplanning to do.

Clean Slate: My Mom always knew when I was out of sorts. She found that my personal space reflected my internal space. The more cluttered it was out there the more chaotic it was in here. So, I developed some techniques for decluttering when I knew I was preparing to be under stress, like finals week or before a job interview. First, I did some general organizing. Like moving things from one room to another I called my "staging space." My staging space soon became an unbearable mess but the chosen room was soon perfectly organized and I could move on to the next space. Cleaning your home or in some cases celebrating in a far off location where there are staff designated to clean after you will help you set the stage for a peace filled and together holiday.

Mindfulness: This is such a trendy term that it may have lost some of it’s meaning. Staying mindful isn’t just a stone in the long winding pathway toward enlightenment, it is the act of being present enough to embrace and possibly enjoy what’s happening right here and now. This means doing one thing at a time, as much as you can. I understand that the turkey is in the oven, the kids are fighting, and your grandmother is asking some pretty strange borderline offensive questions. But occasionally shift your focus from holiday chaos to one thing and fully experience that thing. Of course you will have to shift your focus at times but knowing that you have to pay attention to something else is also pretty darn mindful.

Remember your Blessings: The holidays can really push the gratitude issue. Of course we want to be grateful but we also want the newest phone, computer, or purse. Sometimes taking a step back to remember why we celebrate the holidays can help place perspectives on any shortcomings.

Let go of Perfection: Sorry, you won't make the perfect pound cake every year, and that's ok. Let’s erase the idea of perfection from our lexicon. Family members may not be able to make it for one reason or another, food may not taste great, people may be in a sour mood about one thing or another, or maybe you're suffering a loss. Remember that nothing will ever be perfect and that’s what makes life so random and beautiful. Acquiring the ability to see the silver lining is a well honed skill that many of us don't have but should probably begin practicing.

Create your own traditions: There are plenty of us that have lost loved ones or are far away from our families. The holidays can be pretty bleak when we focus on what we've lost and what "they're" doing. So, getting a little creative can help elevate your mood. That’s how traditions became traditions in the first place, right! If you’re not close to family and can’t afford to see them maybe you volunteer to help feed the homeless or celebrate with a friend, or maybe your cat. Cats in Santa hats are always cute. I'm sure there's a Youtube channel for that.

Don’t eat too much: Ok, this one is a joke. We ALL plan on eating out of a tea cup, refusing seconds and avoiding grandma’s German chocolate cake. HA not serious! Be realistic and don’t judge yourself. Eat what you want and add a walk after dinner or hit the gym the following day. Let’s try to have a judgment free holiday season, just plan ahead. If any day can be a cheat day this is the one.

Boundaries: This has been a stressful year for many of us. From politics, to global atrocities, to income and layoffs, we've all found reasons to get angry or worried. It may be impossible to keep these issues from the holiday table but it is possible to set boundaries and stick to them when they are crossed. For example, let loved ones know what you are comfortable and not comfortable talking about. If and when that argumentative family member brings up a hot button issue you politely and non-passive aggressively, excuse yourself and eat pie in the kitchen. I love a good solitary mouthful of pie over the sink. Oh nobody else does that, that's just me. Remember no judgement!

Get help: I've been keeping it pretty light so far but the holidays can take people where they don't want to go and negatively impact preexisting mental illness or trigger a first episode. Some symptoms may include, increased or decreased need for sleep, changes in appetite, sadness, tearfulness, loss of libido, negative thoughts, memory problems, increased substance use, severe anxiety, or even thoughts of suicide. If you are experiencing any symptoms that are impacting your functioning, either increasing it drastically or vice versa, or know someone who is, please access the following resources or find a therapist in your area. If you don’t already have a therapist I recommend Psychology Today. If suicidal thoughts are the issue please contact 911.

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