Opinion: Make a plan, take walk, etc. A guide to surviving the holidays

This artwork by Mark Weber relates to rise and fall of holiday emotions.

This artwork by Mark Weber relates to rise and fall of holiday emotions.

Mark Weber

I know someone who wishes she could sleep from November until Jan. 2. Why? The holidays are a sad time for her. She misses her family members who have passed away and can’t always get together with her kids. She feels left out and depleted. Some of us who have fewer social connections may not have people to celebrate with, making the holidays a sadder, quieter time despite the sparkle and merriment all around us. If the holidays are not necessarily sad for you, I seldom meet someone who doesn’t feel the stress of preparation, expectations, costs or a jampacked schedule. Even gathering with friends and family can feel like a mixed blessing; old frictions surface and don’t even consider sharing your latest political opinion.

More people understand why the holidays create some hardship, especially this year. The pandemic continues to impact our lives, causing sickness, loss, and isolation. We are still trying to make sense of it all. In 2020, many of us skipped the celebrations. Then in 2021, we limped back together in some limited fashion. Now in 2022, we are trying to dust off our social skills and acknowledge the spirit of the season, but we are out of practice. As we get back into the swing of things, let’s make sure to take care of ourselves this holiday season by:

Making a plan. Even the most introverted folks among us need to be seen and included. Schedule activities to provide some structure during an often hectic time. Balance time spent with others with time reserved for yourself to prevent feeling overwhelmed.

Taking a walk. Walking, breathing in nature can lift your mood. If your mobility is limited, drive around a park or beach to soak in the views.

Saying hi to someone new. Linger in the store and share a greeting, kind word, or chit-chat with a worker or customer. Small exchanges of social pleasantries give us a mental boost and can brighten someone else’s day.

Checking in with yourself. Pay attention to how you feel and ask yourself what you need if stressed or sad. A phone call with a dear friend? Writing a card to someone you care about? Preparing a special meal for yourself? Attending a faith-based event for fellowship or music? Volunteering for a local organization? Make a list of things that make you smile and are nurturing to yourself that you can go to when needed. If you can’t think of anything that may help: sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes, and simply breath in while counting to four and exhale while counting to eight. Repeat!

Slowing down! With great stimulation and expectations around us, we may forget names, details, or an event. Don’t be hard on yourself or overthink this; this is not cognitive impairment – it’s distraction. There is a lot going on and you cannot always absorb all the details. Combat this by staying present and eliminate multi-tasking. By taking your time you will be more aware (and decrease your risk of falling!)

The holiday season, especially during the pandemic, will continue to push all our emotional buttons. Despite stressful gatherings or having fewer people in our lives, we can have a holiday season of peace, rest, nourishment, and joy. Just remember to be gentle with yourself.

Wishing you wellness and happiness in the new year.

Lise LaPointe Jameson, LCSW, is a clinical social worker and executive director of At Home in Greenwich Inc., a membership organization whose mission is to enable older Greenwich residents to age in place confidently. For more information, visit athomeingreenwich.org.