Relaxification – An adverb (perhaps…..or a state of mind…..perhaps – I’ll have to ask a professor of the English language some day) and a word, I believe of my own creation.  This word has a proven track record of helping me on a daily basis, and particularly through holiday depression and anxiety.  I offer the word for your consideration during the holidays, Dear Reader.

Choosing to have a relaxed state of mind around holidays is a choice that we can make.  Or not make.  Is this easier said than done?  Yes it is, for most of us.  Is this achievable?  Yes it is, for most of us.  And non-relaxification is a choice that we can make as well, if we choose to.  The choice is ours in most situations.

Holiday depression, anxiety and mental health issues.  These seem to go hand-in-hand, particularly with regard to the holidays which occur from November thru December.  For many of us, the “perfect” holiday is only available to, and enjoyed by, others, and not by us.  Everyone else, we tell ourselves, has the perfect life and perfectly intact family.  Loving and united, supportive of each other.  Everyone else gets to enjoy the perfect holiday meals, gatherings, presents, decorations and festive mood.  But we don’t.

This is an illusion, Dear Reader.  The image of perfect holidays does, indeed, exist for many people.  Their lives and their families are picture-perfect Hallmark cards.  While ours may not be like that, it does not automatically mean that depression and anxiety must rule the days of November and December.  Nor does it mean that our external view of what others have is an accurate reflection of the reality of their lives during the holidays.

Holiday Hosting Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect

Many years ago, I had two family members who set the “perfect” holiday table.  Most of the people who came to their home for this particular holiday were seemingly oblivious to, or chose to remain silent about, the extreme level of anxiety and stress which the hosts had within them.  To me the stress level was palpable.  The hosts had spent countless hours preparing all the food themselves.  Numerous dishes carefully prepared.  Numerous sets of dishes and silverware carefully prepared and set on the table.

The lady of the house allowed nobody to help her in the kitchen, neither on the day of the holiday nor in the preceding days.  The result was that she was an irritable, anxious, depressed mess.  But she put on a big smile when the guests arrived.  As a member of the family, I arrived early and got to witness the irritable, anxious and depressed neuroses.  It was not fun for her, her husband or myself.  And it was all avoidable.

My advice to you, Dear Reader, is if you are, in fact, the host of a holiday celebration this year, do not stress over making your hosting experience perfect.  Instead, focus on trying to provide a feeling of warmth and love to your guests.  They will appreciate this more than you can ever imagine.  It will also put you in a more relaxed state knowing that perfection is not your goal.  What a burden off your shoulders!

Share the Cooking, and Double the Praise

What I suggested to my family members, after a couple of these gatherings, was that for the next holiday, they consider allowing guests to bring dishes for all to enjoy.  Not a pot luck, but requesting people to bring specific dishes   The hosting couple could do the main dish and a couple other items if they wish, but ask the others if they also wanted to do some cooking.

The result was wonderful!  Everyone brought a dish.  Praise was spread around to all, in the form of “Who made this wonderful salad, or soup, or dip?”  The hostess was much more relaxed and was certainly easier to be around at the next gathering.  Others at the table got to feel better about themselves and the holiday, as they, too, got their ego boosted some.  It was a winning scenario for all.  Anxiety and stress, in and around holiday gatherings and meals, can be avoided.  If it has been an issue with you in the past, try what I suggested to my own family.  Bon appetite!

Stick to Your Holiday Gift Budget

Gift-giving, and one’s personal financial situation, too often produces anxiety in many of us.  Think of the advertisements we see around the holidays, particularly regarding Christmas gifts.  The first one which popped into my mind as I write this is where a man asks his wife to close her eyes as he leads her outside on Christmas morning.  She opens her eyes and sees a brand new car!  All is, and can be, joyful marital bliss with one simple – and expensive – purchase.

But what can we do if we cannot afford such a purchase, or anything remotely close to it?  And if we do not have a spouse or significant other?  Are we less than worthy of an enjoyable holiday season?  Are we to feel like a failure?  A less-than worthwhile person at this holiday?  Nope!  But emotions sell products.  The emotion of guilt-producing anxiety leads many of us to over extend our finances during the holidays.  Even if it is not a new car, expenses incurred with gift purchases can, and do, lead to unwarranted anxiety during the holiday season.

We can choose…..relaxification, Dear Reader.  What is, or can be, important is not the number of dollars we spend on gifts for people we care about.  It is the heart and the love that extend to those we care about.  Simple gifts, personalized and special to the other person, will warm a heart, the recipient’s and our own, like a bowl of hot chicken soup on a cold winter day.

Keep it simple, within your budget and within your means, and watch the anxiety dissipate.  Try buying an adult Yo-Yo, or some similar toy from our childhood years, for a holiday present.  I bet her, or his, eyes will sparkle.  For those of us without immediate family, consider buying some simple gifts, wrapping them up and giving them to complete strangers.  See a lonely looking face while grocery shopping?  Reach in your pocket and give them a little gift.  Do the same for kids in a Children’s Hospital, or adults in an adult hospital.  How about lifting the spirits of some veterans at the local VA hospital.  Thank a veteran with a gift-wrapped book.

Simple gifts = simple pleasures.  If your budget is limited, consider shopping at a Goodwill store.  Books, CDs and toys are inexpensive, and if you know the reading, listening, or toy preferences of the people you are stressed/anxious about shopping for, you can buy them quite a nice selection without spending a lot of dough.  For those of us who are older, many vintage items can be found at Goodwill.  How about a new cane for a loved one?  Buy it and then creatively decorate it before wrapping it up.

Get creative and stay within your budget.  Perhaps go by a motorcycle shop and purchase some Harley Davidson stickers or medallions for a loved one to put on the walker that they use?  Image the smile that would bring to Uncle Leo’s face… a Harley Davidson decorated walker, which would surely impress Shirley at the assisted living center.  Oh yeah…..Uncle Leo’s tricked out walker.

Stick to Your Own Time Frame

If large holiday gatherings are overly stressful and anxiety-producing, we all have options.  We can choose to bring a friend whom we feel comfortable being with.  We can choose to attend the gathering for a short period of time, excusing ourselves when we wish to leave.  No lengthy explanations are usually needed.  Just a simple “Thank you so much for including me/us, and I/we have enjoyed this immensely.  Happy Holidays to you all.”  And then head out.  It is o.k. to have limits as to what we are comfortable participating in, and for how long a time.  We all have limits, and it is just fine to choose to live within them.  We have a choice. We really do.

Manage Your Expectations

There is clinical/physiological depression, and there is situational depression.  Depressed feelings during the holidays are usually in the latter category.  If you are depressed on a regular basis, exhibiting the classic symptoms, please contact a professional in the field.  There is no shame in reaching out for help.  It is a courageous and commendable thing to do for yourself.  You, whoever you may be, are worth practicing self-care.

Depression, which is causally related to the holidays, however, is something that we have more power over than we might be aware of.  Expectations are the heart and the root of a lot of holiday depression.  We can consciously adjust our expectations as to what the holidays at hand might be like for us.

I direct your attention again to the commercialized representations of the major holidays of November and December.  To expect a perfectly scripted holiday, as in the classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” movie, is to set ourselves up for real depressed thinking.  That was a movie, Dear Reader.  It is not real life.  Try to be awake to when depressed thinking is derived from expecting your life to mirror a commercial or a movie.  Your life is your own and, for the most part, you can write your own script.

We can make any holiday much more enjoyable, and tolerable, if we keep our feet and our thoughts rooted in simplicity and reality.  We can call some friends for small get-togethers.  Exchange simple gifts if we wish to, or not.  Perhaps just tell people that it would be nice to enjoy a couple of hours together, sharing pleasant memories of holidays gone by.  Such a gathering can become a treasured memory of the holiday at hand, which can be shared again with friends in the years to come.

Celebrate Lost Loved Ones Rather Than Mourn Them

Also at the heart of holiday depression can be the sense of lost friends and family members.  As we get older, it is unavoidable that we have had friends and family who have died.  Childhood memories are decades behind us.  That is just reality for most of us, and it is natural to have melancholy moments when we miss their presence.

When the sadness of lost loved ones begins to set in during the holidays, what can we do to turn around the energy?  It is important to remember that even though our loved ones are not here with us on these special days, they would want these days to be exactly that… special! Think of the fun times you experienced with your lost loved ones.  Celebrate their lives, instead of grieving them.

Give the Gift of Giving

How can we help someone else have an enjoyable holiday?  A man named Francis wrote, many years ago, “For it is in the giving that we receive.”  Giving freely of ourselves to another, with no expectation of receiving anything in return, has been known to warm even the most depressed heart.  Perhaps even more than hot chicken soup on a cold winter day.

We can call our church or synagogue or mosque and ask who in their congregation could use some help.  Ask who is alone.  Ask who has no family.  Consider offering financial assistance, some yard work at their home or a homemade cake.  Perhaps a full-time caregiver could use your help for a couple of hours so that the caregiver can step away from their duty.

Anything that comes from our heart, given to another with love and caring, cannot help but lift the depressed thinking which has us by our throats.  When we do such deeds with a motive of helping others, and not from a place of self-aggrandizement, our holiday depression has no room to live or grow in us.  Such actions take us, and our thinking, out of ourselves.

Relaxification, along with simple acts of kindness and caring, lift the holiday blues.  It works.  It really does!

***If you or anyone you know is suffering from mental health issues, here is a list of national mental health resources that can help***

Written by:  Aaron Ainbinder - the author of “Just Before the Stroke of Seven".