Dr. Bonnachoven was onto something that we Americans could learn from. The holidays are upon us. What a weird way to describe holidays. It sounds like we are being suffocated by a Sumo wrestler rather than getting ready to celebrate something. While all cultures celebrate holidays year round, in the United States, the holidays between Halloween and Groundhog Day cause Americans more stress than any other time of year. “But wait,” you may protest, “aren’t holidays supposed to be fun?” Well … ideally yes; but in reality, more of us will be swallowing Xanax than eggnog for the next month. With the holidays “upon us,” Americans experience more anxiety and take more anti-anxiety medications than any other time of year. In addition, stress-related alcohol consumption increases as well as more recreational drinking. It is not totally ironic that we stress around the holidays because the word “holiday” comes from an Old English word haligdæg. This word meant a “holy day” which usually marked a religious festival as well as a day of exemption from labor and recreation. That is not totally correct though, as most of us over age 11 will experience lots of work November through December and little recreation. In a way, holidays are a lot like Facebook in that our real life never quite measures up to the ideal of the FB profile. In this case, the holiday ideal is in our mind or the unrealistic expectations of family members. Many people will experience holiday stress due to financial problems. Others may feel alone and left out of many of the activities associated with whatever celebration their culture is emphasizing. Most of us will want to enjoy the holidays but may not have time to figure out how. That is what I want to help with in this article.
Some types of planning reduce stress while other types increase it. A comedian once quipped, “In terms of relief, cancelling plans is like heroin.” While I wouldn’t go that far, I do understand the sentiment. Scheduling or planning leisure time activities makes them feel like work which is when we are more likely to cancel them (C’mon— who wouldn’t want to cancel some “work”?). Technology has also made it easier to cancel a planned event (quick text “Dang—the dog ate my ticket—go on without me.”). Even though holidays are times to share with others, most of us still need some time alone. Before you say “yes” to an invitation, think it through. Prioritize the people you really want to spend time with. If you have trouble saying “no” in general, buy yourself time with something like “let me double check my calendar which happens to be in Columbus right now.” Seriously though, if you feel pressured to make a quick response, you can always say “Thanks—let me check and get back with you.” Also remember that it is totally fine to accept an invitation to a party and not stay the entire time. “Putting in an appearance” can be a good strategy for those who are uncomfortable at parties.
Illustration by Chuck Slonaker
It is strange, but in our culture, taking time for oneself is sometimes called “selfish.” Well, I guess that is the correct word, but it doesn’t have to have a negative connotation. Being selfish can just mean you are giving yourself the gift of some time to do whatever you like. In Sinclair Lewis’s book Babbitt, the title character, George Babbitt says, “I’ve never done a single thing I’ve wanted to in my whole life!” In case you missed the book, he was not a happy camper. Being selfish looks pretty good compared to being Babbitt. Some of you may be thinking “this guy doesn’t understand—I never have enough time anyway, let alone time to plan holiday activities!” It is true that Americans work more hours than people in other developed countries and take fewer vacation days. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that Americans average five hours of leisure time a day and spend almost three of those watching television. So, consider saving your binge watching for the dank, dark days of January and dedicate those hours to some holiday things you enjoy between Halloween and New Year’s.
Diet and Exercise
Holidays come with a wide array of treats we usually don’t allow ourselves at other times of year (who makes stuffing on a regular basis?). These are part of the fun, but some of us can slide into bad habits when we skip workouts and double up on desserts. Running to a buffet does not count as exercise any more than curling pints of Guinness at Ray’s Place. Try to make time for whatever exercise you usually do and eat as healthfully as you can between treats. Moderation is ideal but for many of us during holidays, it ranges from unrealistic to impossible. At the very least, try to balance indulgences with healthy habits. If you don’t have any healthy habits, you’re likely to be one of those people whose New Year’s resolution is to join a gym January 2nd. If this ends up being you, don’t forget that Kent Parks and Recreation has a wonderful fitness center for just $10 a month. They even have a television you can watch while working off holiday calories and maintaining your television time.
Make Time for Giving
We have all been told “it is better to give than to receive”, but most of us don’t buy it. Spiritual or ethical considerations aside, there is a psychological magic to planning things for others—especially around holidays. In many cultures, delivering anonymous gifts provides needed relief to those who receive them and reminds those who give them that we are really in this together. Maybe you want to take some of your television time to volunteer in a way that is meaningful to you. Kent area volunteer activities are listed at www.volunteermatch.org. As odd as it may sound, “giving” can also take the form of spending time with others like family who perhaps you don’t enjoy much. Most of us can relate to the idea of loving Halloween because it is the only holiday that doesn’t require us to have a big meal with our extended family. While no one should spend time with others who are abusive, I am suggesting reframing those family traditions that you sort of dread but would never abstain from. In that sense, think of it as a “charitable donation” of time and good humor where you will do your best to see the good in others. Trying to see the best in others often brings out the best in ourselves.
Create Your Own Holiday
Some of us feel no real connection to the cultural festivals that populate the end of the year. That doesn’t mean you are out of luck—it just means you might have a good reason to think outside the gift box. Some people want to share meaningful times with loved ones outside the more culturally scripted holidays. For those pioneers, here are a couple ideas.
Flexible New Year
The “New Year” on January 1st is based on the Gregorian calendar, but is only one of many “New Year” festivals. You could celebrate New Year during the Gaelic festival of Samhain (pronounced “Sah-win”) that takes place from sunset October 31st to sunset November 1st. It traditionally marked the end of harvest season. In Islam, the first day of the New Year is the first day of Muharram (the month of remembrance) which will begin September 20th, 2017. These are just a couple of examples of dozens of ways to mark a new year.
One of the most underrated holidays is Groundhog Day. It is February 2nd in 2017 and derives from festivals marking the beginning of the end of winter. Groundhog Day comes from a Celtic festival Imbolc that in Celtic literally means “in the belly.” That is thought to refer to the pregnancy of ewes (female sheep believed to be an early sign of spring. So, if you need an excuse to keep your holiday lights up into February, Groundhog Day is it. For a list of other bizarre and unique days you could celebrate, check out http://www.holidayinsights.com/moreholidays/january.htm. Whatever feelings holidays evoke in you, they don’t have to consume you. Mindful planning, focusing on others and having some fun with your imagination can ease whatever burdens holidays bring. In the end, we really are in this together and in that spirit, I wish you the happiest of holidays this season.