It’s inevitable. Stress hits this time of year with the force of a runaway sleigh.
Even the most organized shoppers, the cheeriest elves and the perpetually joyous amongst us can find the stress of the season battering. We push ourselves to the brink and then sink into a holiday funk.
Licensed therapist Marilyn Messina with Tapestry Counseling and Associates in Worthington says most people think of the holidays as an event, like a wedding. “We work for this one day,” she says, and that is completely separate from how we really live our lives.
The key to enjoying the holidays is to “keep as much of your normal routine as you possibly can,” Messina says.
And your normal routine should be filled with events, hobbies and activities that make you happy and keep you moving, she says.
Study after study suggests exercise lifts your mood by relieving stress, and some studies report that exercise has similar effects on the brain to those of anti-depressants.
You don’t have to bust a gut at the gym to keep yourself mentally fit; even moderate exercise such as walking can help lift your mood. If you pair exercise with an activity you love, say photography – think a walk at one of the Metro Parks with camera in hand – you will be more inclined to repeat the process until it becomes habit.
The challenge for most of us is that it’s difficult as adults to identify the activities we truly enjoy. We’re too busy being adults to think about what actually makes us happy.
Here’s a hint: Think small – less trying to find happily ever after, more handball. Moderate specific activities are more enjoyable than tackling big, abstract goals.
So where do we start?
“Most people watch only three television shows,” Messina says, so figure out the three you watch and list out reasons why you watch. Then parlay those reasons into activities that take you off the couch.
Like Animal Planet? Volunteer at Columbus Dog Connection to help dogs up for adoption exercise. Like CMT? Take up line dancing.
If American Idol is your favorite, why not try singing yourself? If you have hours of History Channel on your DVR, why not walk around Columbus’ historic cemeteries?
The trick is to remember who you were as a kid. The activities you liked to do then are more than likely the activities you wish you could do now, but don’t seem to have time for, Messina says. And though pee-wee football might not be an option for your adult self, flag football with the kids on Saturday mornings would make a great new habit.
Make time to get to know yourself, then make a commitment to do what you like to do and make it a part of your life. It’s a great way to help you through all the seasons of the year – birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and yes, weddings, too. And the holiday season is a perfect time to start your new routine while you have a few free hours to fill.
Need more ideas? Here are a few activities to consider that will get you moving mentally and physically:
Photo Albums. Open up an old photo album – the older, the better. Put on the kettle and share a cup of tea with yourself 10, 15, 20 years ago. Scan one of the pictures with you and an old friend and upload it to Facebook. List three things you used to do, but don’t do now. Pick one and see how you can incorporate it into your life.
New Recipes. If you enjoy WOSU’s How-To Saturday programming or the Food Network, pick a recipe you’ve never made before, then go shopping in a grocery store unfamiliar to you. Make the experience into a scavenger hunt. Messina says to stick with whole, healthy foods that you could prepare all year long.
Meet-up Groups. It’s not just for dating anymore. Search for like-minded people who hike, craft, photograph or even geek out on geocaching. Everyone comes to the group the same way – by signing up and showing up – so you’re all equally awkward at first. Visit www.meetup.com.
Tour Columbus. The Columbus Landmarks Foundation hosts the Illuminated Spaces Tour in December. It’s a tour of stained glass windows from the city’s most beautiful places of worship. Greenlawn Cemetery Tours are another option.
Pay It Forward. Get out and see the state in all its holiday splendor and help the Columbus Dog Connection by volunteering to be a part of the transport team that transports in-need pups to shelters and homes across the state. Contact Kellie DiFrischia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Play. Check out the new Center for Creativity at the Columbus Museum of Art, where you can try your hand at making a mobile like Alexander Calder. It’s a challenge that takes dexterity, planning and a sense of humor. Small hand motions count, as the most exercise our fingers get is typing and texting. Move them in a different way and feel how wonderful it is to experience the world away from computers and smart phones.
Cindy Gaillard is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.
Those who need immediate support during the holiday season should not hesitate to reach out to professionals who can help:
Netcare Access: 614-276-2273
Netcare Access provides 24-hour mental health and substance abuse crisis intervention, stabilization and assessment for Franklin County residents.
Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation Hotline: 800-273-8255