Healthy Holidays Start With You

Holiday Magic

Like many kids, I grew up blanketed with the joy and magic that surrounds the holidays. Family and friends gathered to eat, drink, and make merry, which went on for weeks.  

Our grandparents traveled over two states in their modern-day sleigh (a classic T-bird) through snow, fog, and other disruptions to deliver the treasures they had been collecting throughout the year. I would wait, wide-eyed, at the window of our little farmhouse for my first glimpse of the “gray streak” to arrive.  

We called it that because grandpa had a heavier foot than most accelerator pedals are used to. This was proven year-after-year, as their entry into Oregon was usually met with the vibrant lights of the Oregon State Police. Grandpa’s holiday speeding ticket became as customary as the Italian spaghetti that he would whip up during his stay.  

The stories of the shenanigans he would pull to thwart the issuance of a moving violation were right out of National Lampoon’s movies. One year, when the friendly officer pulled him over on I-5 coming down Siskiyou Pass, a stretch that was particularly challenging for someone whose foot was denser than most, he quickly coached my grandma to pretend she was very ill. His story was that she needed immediate medical attention. Instead of releasing them to go on their way, the officer escorted them with lights and sirens to the nearest hospital! 

That year my wait at the window was longer than most as my grandparents had to play out the scene to avoid the speeding ticket, along with whatever citation would come from deceiving the police officer. However, the wait was always worth it. And, the stories that came with such shenanigans were told again and again.  

Sparkle Fades

Every kid should experience the carefree enchantment of the holidays. It was something that I never expected to fade for me. The Norman Rockwell portrayal of Thanksgiving and Christmas was the reality that I had grown accustomed to. It’s what I had known, and I couldn’t imagine how or why that would ever change.

It was unfathomable for me that some people could hate the holidays, until 2005. I was in a new city and going through the dark throws of divorce. Without family around and only a few new acquaintances, it was lonely. Finances were stretched thin as I had the cost of re–establishing myself in the workforce, setting up a household and covering costly legal fees. That was the year that I got it!  

That year, I came to understand how people find the holidays less than joyous. I have spent more than one Christmas and Christmas Eve entirely alone. You tell yourself that it is okay because you will celebrate when the kids come home. Or, the kids will understand when there are not as many gifts as they are used to under the tree. But, the pain of disappointing even the most unrealistic of expectations can taint the brightest holiday spirit.  

True Holiday Spirit 

The bar is set so high from our traditional expectations, to commercial representations of the perfect holiday. However, the best gift you can give yourself, your friends, and family during this season is a healthier you. It all starts with your mental and emotional health. 

If I could define the season with one word, it would be—GIVE. Consider how giving in these ways may make this season bright for you and others around you.  

GIVE YOURSELF
A BREAK

First and foremost, you can’t be the best version of yourself if you don’t put yourself first. This is not the Scrooge approach. It’s taking time to consider your physical well-being, mental health, and safety during the holidays. Many times, we overcommit, rush travel, custom wrap every present, bake dozens of goodies, attend every party and event — until we just can’t do it anymore.

The rushing, cramming, socializing, and stuffing our faces takes its toll. If we slow down and set some boundaries for how much we could or should take on, do, or spend during the holidays it helps sustain a healthy mindset. These are two guidelines that help guide my holiday planning: 1) Don’t stress the little stuff; 2) And nearly everything, no matter what we are conditioned to believe, is little.

GIVE TRADITION
A VACATION

My household is the master of non-traditional holidays. We threw Norman Rockwell out the window a long time ago. We come from different religious and cultural backgrounds. And our schedules are very difficult to coordinate. A break from tradition helps alleviate the pressure to raise the bar higher and higher every year.

Some of our best memories have been breaking from tradition. We have had Christmas dinner at a Sushi Bar, in a private room where you take your shoes off and sit on pillows. This year, we had Thanksgiving on Black Friday and we will have Christmas on December 21. Make the holiday about togetherness which doesn’t have to happen on a specific date.

GIVE OTHERS
A CHANCE TO HELP

The holidays can be a particularly isolating time for those with unique family situations or mental health challenges. No one knows better than yourself when and how you need support.

You know what pulls you through, so make a plan and inform your support system of your triggers and boundaries. Discuss with your closest confidant the signals that might indicate you need intervention to avoid potentially uncomfortable outreach in a difficult moment.

GIVE
BACK

Life is a cycle. Some years finances and time will allow you to share generously. At other times, you may find yourself in need of assistance. Over the years, I have been as blessed by receiving the generosity of others as I have been from giving to a worthy cause.  

Giving back doesn’t have to be to a charitable cause. Start with your family, a neighbor, a friend or a colleague. Learn what makes their holiday bright and lend a hand. It is often the smallest of efforts that impact the most. A friendly smile. Letting someone go ahead in line at check-out. Being the patient patron that is a breath of fresh air to your frazzled server. The ripples of relief you will create will likely have untold positive returns.  

Unexpected Miracles

Holiday miracles still happen. I was a recipient of one that lonely holiday in 2005. As I sat in my scantly furnished rental with a secondhand Christmas tree, miracles came my way. In the few days leading up to Christmas, I received the generosity of strangers.  

First, a package of handcrafted Christmas ornaments arrived. We unwrapped them carefully and hung them on the tree. We had just finished decorating the tree when the doorbell rang. At the door stood a man and woman with armfuls of packages for me and the four kids, and fixings for Christmas dinner.  

Strangers gave us an unexpected Christmas that year. The gift of giving was felt by my whole family that night. As we sat around the lit tree, my three-year–old daughter looked up at me and said, “It’s a Christmas miracle, mommy.” She was right!

Put your health first!

If you experience a mental health crisis during holidays or anytime throughout the year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness offers interventions and resources via phone, email and even text. You may also consider calling 911 or visiting a local emergency room.  

Contact Data

Name: Chris Jones

Organization: UrbanLink Media

Phone: 1-855-730-5465

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