BY JENNIFER WOODWORTH If your service member is deployed or training, either celebrate early if they are leaving around the holiday time, or after the official season, to include them if they are going to return soon after the holidays
December can be a stressful time for families, whether together or apart for the holiday season. Remember that children often look to their parents or other adults to figure out how to navigate their stress or emotions and often copy what they see modeled. Here are some helpful hints to keep stress to a minimum for you and your family during this winter holidays.
REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS: Rigid or high expectations of yourself or others during this time of year often lead to disappointment and an increase in anxiety or depression. Create a plan of goals that are achievable, whether it be accepting a predetermined number of party invitations or providing holiday treats for work or school functions. Also, generate a financial plan about what is affordable to spend on gifts and stick to it. Talk with your children about what they might expect during the holidays; gifts, activities, behavior and assistance with chores are all topics to consider discussing.
ROUTINE AND STRUCTURE: Stick to your regular routine for as many days as possible in order to decrease stress. With two weeks off of school, days are bound to feel long without a schedule. When able to anticipate their day, children are more responsive to redirection and are able to manage changes with less difficulty.
FINANCIAL PLANNING: Again, stick to realistic financial expectations. Limit credit card transactions, or if possible do not use credit cards at all. Debt creates additional stress during the holidays, carries into the New Year and increases the original amount of the transactions if it is not paid off right away.
ASK FOR HELP: Asking for help can be tough. There are organizations that offer assistance, however, they won’t know that you need help unless you ask for it. Holiday dinners and toys can be provided for by various organizations listed in the resources section. Also, your physical or mental health may decline if you are overwhelmed or stressed out. Consult your physician or a professional therapist if you notice symptoms of anxiety or depression increasing around this season for yourself or family members.
SELF CARE: Continue or begin making time to decompress with a healthy nutritional diet, exercise and the right amount of sleep. Indulge in treats, yet moderate your intake at a level you are comfortable with. This will assist in keeping a positive attitude, patience and an enjoyable atmosphere during a potentially chaotic time of year for some families.
BE MINDFUL IN THE MOMENT: Many times thinking about what is not being accomplished can create a block in recognizing all the wonderful moments in the present. Do one thing at a time, give it your entire attention and when talking with someone be fully present and listen. Take time to observe each other, eat meals together, and ask how the day is going amidst the holiday chaos. Enjoy the process instead of being tied to the end result, which will create a more relaxing event.
WHAT’S NEW? Creating new family traditions can be a way to add humor and fun into your holiday. Spend time together discussing various ways to incorporate creative ideas to relax and unwind. Ideas include a family art project, trying a new recipe, volunteer opportunity or pajama party. Celebrate each other with words or actions of service instead of gifts.
REMEMBER WHY YOU CELEBRATE: Remind yourself what you are grateful for and the reason you are celebrating your holidays. Practice gratitude with your family and talk to them about what you are thankful for. Have each member of the family practice talking to friends, teachers, co-workers or neighbors about why they are thankful to have them in their life. Also, learning about how other countries or cultures around the world celebrate this time of year can be enjoyable and interesting for children.
NEAR OR FAR: You may be apart from your close family members this season; however technology allows connection even if you are physically separated. Remember to use Skype, Facetime or other video chat programs to include family in your holiday celebrations. If your service member is deployed or training, either celebrate early if they are leaving around the holiday time, or after the official season to include them if they are going to return soon after the holidays. Do something in honor of your deployed service member by creating a care package or taking funny family photos of your holiday to send via email.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jennifer Woodworth graduated from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology – Irvine Campus – in August 2013 with a doctorate in Applied Clinical Psychology. She is currently a post doctoral fellow at Aurora Behavioral Health Care – San Diego and has worked in the mental health field for six years. She is also a Marine Corps wife of 12 years and mother to three children ages five, seven, and nine.