12 tips for having happy holidays in NWI - December 16, 2016

Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana • December 16, 2016

By Giles Bruce

It’s that most wonderful, er, stressful time of year.

It’s easy to get mentally overwhelmed during the holidays, from trying to spoil your family with gifts to preparing big meals to overindulging in food and drinks. It’s important to take a breather every once in a while, to live in the moment.

Some Northwest Indiana mental health experts shared some tips for beating the holiday blues:

1. Acknowledge your feelings. “If loved ones can’t be with you, understand that sadness and grief are normal feelings. It is OK to feel your feelings and express your sadness or loneliness to others,” said Dr. Julia Kocal, a clinical psychologist with LaPorte Physician Primary Care Network in Knox.

2. Stay connected. “Reach out to friends and family as well as to church and community groups. Volunteering is a wonderful way to increase your own happiness. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help if necessary,” Kocal said.

3. Focus on experiences and activities instead of expensive gifts. “Your level of happiness increases by the experiences you have with others,” Kocal said.

4. Get some sunlight. During this time of year, many people leave the house for work when it’s dark outside and return home when it’s dark as well. That lack of sunlight can lead to seasonal affective disorder. So Julie Kissee, manager of the employee assistance program at Franciscan Health hospital in Hammond, recommends that people make a point to get outdoors and absorb some rays. “We’re kind of like plants. We have our own version of photosynthesis. We need that sunlight to help us with feeling better,” Kissee said.

If it isn’t possible to get outside, you can invest in a light therapy light that mimics sunlight.

5. Stick to your normal routine. “Try not to overeat. Try not to overindulge. Try to maintain as much of a healthy sleep pattern as you can. Try not to overschedule,” Kissee said.

6. Be in the moment. “The catchphrase right now is mindfulness: being in the here and now,” Kissee said. “Experience the lights that are around you, look at the season that’s happening around you, instead of being on autopilot. Slow down for yourself and say, ‘OK, let’s look at the pretty lights. Let’s slow down and enjoy the season for what it is. Think about the happy memories I’ve had.'”

7. Keep your expectations reasonable. “A joke I heard from a co-therapist is, ‘It’s OK for your family to be crazy 364 days a year but it’s not OK for them to be crazy Christmas Day?'” said Jake Messing, director of behavioral health services for St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago. “If I come from a crazy family, they’re going to be crazy — or crazier — on Christmas Day.”

“I call it the Hallmark phenomenon,” he added. “My Christmas doesn’t look like a Hallmark holiday Christmas, so there’s something wrong with me. We’re an imperfect people, living in an imperfect world. That doesn’t mean it’s bad.”

8. Don’t make comparisons to holidays past. “Christmas is not the same when kids are grown. Nobody’s running down the stairs, looking for presents. If we live up there, we’re going to be down in the dumps,” Messing said. “Families should create new Christmas traditions to replace the old ones. If kids are moved out and out of state, volunteer with an organization that works with kids.”

9. Watch your food and alcohol intake. “Particularly the alcohol,” Messing said.

10. Monitor your spending. “If we go off the deep end spending money because we feel we should or have to, getting that credit card bill in January is not going to relieve stress.”

11. Don’t forget about your health. “Eat a good breakfast. Try to walk at least 30 minutes a day. Even stop and do three good, cleansing breaths. If you have a regular exercise routine, don’t give it up,” said Sue Heaton, director of the employee assistance program for Methodist Hospitals.

12. Don’t be afraid to say no. “Ask yourself: Do I enjoy doing these things? Do I enjoy these people? And if the answer to any of these is no, then give yourself permission to not attend,” Heaton said.