Guest post by Bob Carton, licensed mental health counselor at the Employee Assistance Program at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.
The holidays can be a stressful time. The simple act of finding the right dress for a gathering may become an ordeal for someone. Wearing the same new dress as your supervisor can be funny on a sitcom; however, it can be painful in real life – especially if a subordinate looks better than her boss in the dress.
Holidays by design are meant to be days when we break with routine custom and adopt a festive sensibility. We break diets, socialization patterns, spending practices and normal drinking customs. A holiday is a mini vacation from normal life. During such predictable breaks in our routines, one may find that we can easily lose constraint and wander too far from our normal disciplines. This may lead to loss of control and unwanted consequences, and these penalties may be costly to both our physical and mental wellbeing.
Think back on a festive feast at grandma’s house in days gone by. Plates filled with mounds of potatoes swimming in gravy, piles of turkey and ham, homemade breads and biscuits slathered in butter, with special dressings, festive veggies adorned with special sauces and garnishes, bright orange mounds of yams browned with marshmallow and pecan glazes. Who could pass up an extra helping of Aunt Millie’s magnificent pecan pie? Huge amounts of energy are required to convert all that masticated mass into absorbed nutrients. (Now you know why you snoozed through the winning interception and touchdown while watching your favorite team during the holiday game.)
Your stomach muscle walls churn violently on one side of your stomach; clumps of food are thrown violently against the far wall, falling into a bubbling vat of acids and enzymes. All these solids on the move urge continued commands to drink fluids – how we respond to that thirst may help or hurt the process. Provided you didn’t eat so much that the remaining stomach contents take a reverse trip, the next leg of the journey will take you to the little room down the hall.
The meal described above may seem an exaggeration for some, while many will identify with the description for at least one holiday meal. The same way a tendency toward excess may push us toward overdoing the other holiday rituals we engage in; whether it is over consumption of alcohol, spending beyond safe limits, worrying about pleasing in-laws and friends who may have seemed impossible to satisfy. The stressors will compound and may build and couple themselves to memories of past holiday regrets. These excesses can take the joy out of any holiday season if we allow them to.
The remedy is planning: thinking how much money, time, energy, calories and socializing one can afford and still manage to retain a semblance of the meaning the holiday was intended to convey.
Put mental limits on all consumption and do your best to stay within your mental budgets. Retain a sense of joy and when the joy begins to fade, back off. Know there are people we can never please; let the Grinches go. There is no law saying you can’t start your own tradition more in keeping with your values, holding on to those features of holiday life that are meaningful to you and your family. Laugh, sing, breathe and don’t spend, eat or drink too much and this may be your best holiday yet.