Home for the Holidays: Mental Health Edition

Did I have a normal childhood by any definition of the word? Well for starters I hated the holidays; particularly Thanksgiving. I tolerated Christmas; well the first couple of Christmases. You see, my family celebrated three, four, five Christmases within the span of a week; and typically we hosted at least 70% of them along with the other holidays. It got exhausting fast. 

To be honest it got exhausting before it even started; first of all my dad is in sales and his year end started right around the same time the holidays did; I could hear the stress in his voice. I could feel my mom’s stress across the house days before the festivities. Don’t forget the last minute cooking and cleaning which included the rooms and bathrooms whose doors would remain closed the entirety of the festivities. 

By the time of arrival it honestly depended on the crowd. I had a blast with some parts of my family, and was overwhelmed and in a constant state of panic with the others. I spent a lot of time hiding in my parents room watching Hannah Montana; cuddled up on the bed with Maddie, my Greater Swiss Mountain Dog who was just as anxious if not more anxious than myself. A lot of times I felt like she was the only one who really understood me. 

I would like to say growing up and maturing has helped me get over my disdain for the holidays, but I think a big part of this growth has stemmed from me having my own place. I now feel as if I have a sense of control. I can come and go as I want, and distance does make the heart grow fonder. Maturity also brings a sense of understanding, now that I am an adult I understand how stressful work and entertaining can be. However, this does not mean I will allow stress to consume me simply because it can. 

First of all I start my holiday shopping early. Most importantly there are few things worse than frantically tracking the perfect gift three days before Christmas. I also previously worked in shipping and warehousing, trust me your delivery personnel will appreciate you having planned ahead. My personal favorite places to shop are small businesses and businesses that give back in some form or another. Small shops and shops with a purpose are truly where you will find the most meaningful and sentimental gifts. I like having the time to think about and be confident in my gifts. I get easily stressed about everything, which includes money. It is nice to begin shopping early to be able to spread out the cost. 

If you are a little tight on cash there is no shame in gifting something homemade. Up until I graduated college I gave pretty much solely homemade gifts; stamped keychains, pottery, pictures, candles, soap, cookies, cupcakes, and of course jewelry which is how I fell in love with jewelry design. One of my first creations was wire wrapped sea glass necklaces that I gifted to my family at Christmas. Needless to say I fell in love with the craft, it is now one of my favorite ways to decompress, and I still give handmade jewelry to this day.

Just like purchasing your gifts in advance there is plenty of other holiday prep that can be done in moderation. Decorating should be fun not stressful, if putting up your tree is causing you stress take a break. If you are tired of baking cookies, the ingredients will still be there tomorrow. Prepare the food that you can in advance and put it in the oven as the guests are arriving. Tidy up in advance, I have a dog so I know even if I vacuum minutes before the guests arrive there is still a chance my floor will be a mess when my guests walk in. This doesn’t mean I can’t put away clutter, clean my bathrooms, dust, and wash my windows in advance. 

The holidays are stressful, make sure you are taking care of yourself. Spend some time doing what you love and make sure you give yourself breaks. I bring my dog to most of the festivities. Lila makes me happy and she gives me a great excuse to take a quick walk if I need a break. If you are like me and like to have a routine, the holidays are not a reason to change that. Put yourself first, the chaos of Christmas is not a reason to stop taking care of yourself. However, the chaos of the holidays does give you the right to take a well deserved break. 

A couple years ago right before Thanksgiving I decided to step on the scale. That was when it hit me that I gained the freshman fifteen. I proceeded to ruin my holidays and my vacation by deciding to begin a diet on Thanksgiving day. I highly do not recommend this, this time of year is stressful for a multitude of reasons. There is no need to add additional pressure on yourself that realistically can wait until January when you start drafting up New Year’s Resolutions. 

If done right, holidays can be a truly magical time of year to spend with those who mean the most to you; however, that may look. This magic is only possible if you set boundaries, take care of yourself, and give yourself a break. Carry on those traditions that you had growing up that made Christmas magical, if there was a tradition you hated you don’t need to continue it just because you have done it for the last twenty years. If you were like me and grew up hating the holidays, trust me finding the magic is possible, you just need to know where to look.