You’ve probably noticed (and unless you are completely detached from anything in life, you most certainly have) that the holiday stress season is upon us. Stores are filling with the holiday essentials and more, commercials are airing advertising holiday shows, movies, and gift-giving ideas, and people are already chattering about pending holiday plans. It’s a wonderful and stressful time of year! Stay ahead of holiday stress with these seven hacks.
Whether you are naturally a lover of all things holiday or have struggled with a case of the Scrooge’s in the past, the first holiday season post-divorce is a changed game. Particularly if there are children involved. Like learning to navigate any other uncharted territory, awareness of what you are likely to be facing and pre-planning can help make all the difference between a joyous time versus a “please just fast forward to 2019 while I pull the covers over my head” attitude.
The hustle and bustle of the holiday season brings with it stress. Stress isn’t always a bad thing. Some stress is healthy and motivating. It’s the push we need to feel energized to engage in activities we want to do and keeps us going through a busy and exciting time. But stress can also be negative and have detrimental effects on our physical and emotional well-being.
Negative stress is linked to sleep difficulties (difficulty falling or staying asleep), extreme fatigue, stomach issues, irritability, forgetfulness, and difficulty problem-solving. Prolonged stress can lead to high blood pressure and even trigger panic attacks. People feeling the effects of negative, prolonged stress are at higher risk for substance (or other addictive) issues and mental health problems.
If you feel yourself wanting to reach for the fast-forward button already, while simultaneously pulling the covers over your head, know that you are not alone and there are ways to ensure holiday stress doesn’t get the best of you.
Combating Holiday Stress: Social Settings
Set Boundaries with Social Gathering Invites:
Determine your priorities and what you can realistically handle in terms of time. There is never a busier time of year than the holiday season for social gatherings. You might even find yourself with more invitations for social gatherings now that you are flying solo. The family will surely be getting together, friends (probably from several different social circles) will be looking to host their own holiday bash, and the after-hours office holiday party will all be competing for your time and attention. If you have children, the invites for plays and concerts hosted by the school and church as well as gatherings with their friends will start flowing in as well.
Determining what you can handle in terms of time on the front end will help in knowing immediately which gatherings you can gladly RSVP “yes” and which you can politely decline. Have in mind an idea of how many days or evenings a week you want to be engaged in social activity, and which days or evenings are the best fit for you and your family. You may determine that Friday and Saturday evenings are best and that requests for Sundays or a certain evening of the work week need thoughtful consideration (based on priorities) before accepting the invitation.
Equally important is knowing your priorities. For example, if you have children you are likely to determine that, first and foremost, attending their holiday concert at school is priority one. If you’re not all the crazy about the crew you interact with daily at work, you might decide to forego the office holiday gathering (or determine a plan to “make an appearance” for a shortened period).
Whatever you decide, give yourself permission to politely decline invites for social engagements that simply don’t fit with your priorities and time. It is better to fully commit to fewer gatherings, where you can be present and enjoy yourself than it is to over-extend and feel miserable and tired at every gathering you received, and accepted an invitation.
Mentally Prepare for Social Gatherings:
If you are newly separated or divorced, those with whom you haven’t yet had contact (but who are aware of your circumstance) are going to be looking to you for cues on interaction. Some will follow these cues flawlessly while others will be more awkward, but you can certainly be <mostly> in control of the interaction. Decide ahead of time how you might respond to questions (direct or subtle). If you are willing to share information, go into the social gathering knowing what and how much you have a willingness to share. Also, have top of mind “subject changers” so when you’ve said all you are willing to say on the topic you can steer the conversation in another direction. You also are well within your right to comment very briefly and clearly communicate your preference not to continue discussion on the matter (“yes, it’s been difficult, and I prefer not to talk about it. Thank you for your concern and for keeping me in your thoughts” ….insert subject changer).
Social Gatherings and Gift Exchanges:
The holidays don’t have to be about buying extravagant gifts for everyone you know. Determine and to stick to your budget with gift buying. This goes for gift buying for your children as well. Consider DIY projects that are cost-effective, and purchasing experiences that you might be footing the bill for in the future anyway. For example, if you have children consider passes to a movie, children’s museum, water park, or other activity they might enjoy getting more bang for your buck. There is the thrill of opening a gift with a stuffed giraffe and passes to the zoo in the gift opening moment, followed by opportunity for an outing that you were probably going to pay for down the road anyway.
Check out this resource for inexpensive gift ideas for adults in your life, and these inexpensive gift ideas for kids.
If there are gift exchanges at other social gatherings that are optional (i.e., the office holiday party, or a white elephant exchange at a friends’ holiday bash), consider opting out if it just doesn’t fit your budget.
Combating Holiday Stress: Personal Wellness
Take Time for You:
Make time to participate in activities that you find to be relaxing and rejuvenating and resist the temptation to feel guilty about needing a holiday obligation break. These essential breaks will aid in your ability to better enjoy the holiday activities you have committed to and channel the holiday stress into being positive.
Even when you are feeling worn out and unmotivated, pencil in some physical activity. Doing so will lower adrenaline and cortisol (i.e., stress hormones) within the body and this is the absolute best way to fight negative effects of stress. You don’t need to log half an hour on the treadmill or train for a triathlon. Scheduling a tennis match with a friend, shooting hoops, or a brisk walk in the cooler weather can be just what your body needs to clear out excess stress hormone and leave you feeling more relaxed.
Practice Relaxation Skills:
Relaxation activities force us to slow down and help our bodies to regroup. Consider deep breathing exercises, turn on relaxing music, practice meditation, or go for a quiet drive after the sun goes down. Maybe even consider scheduling a massage. Not sure where to start? This short relaxation video will walk you through five minutes of relaxation.
Get Adequate Rest:
During times of high stress (whether positive or negative) it’s quite likely that our bodies will require more rest than is our norm. Our bodies will also let us know when this is the case, so we must be careful to listen. When you are feeling physically or mentally worn out, don’t strive to complete just a couple more tasks. Instead, call it a day and tuck in; your body will thank you for doing so.
The holiday season doesn’t have to be characterized by holiday stress, even when you have experienced significant life changes. Everyone gets an opportunity to decide, and be in control of, how they are going to approach this busy time of year. Know your priorities, set boundaries (don’t feel guilty about doing so), and don’t forget to care for yourself.
(c) Can Stock Photo / vitalytitov
Good mental health care is crucial for a man going through a divorce. It is important he is mindful of his own health and that of his children. Going through a divorce will probably be one of most the stressful events of a man’s life. It is especially important that he take precautions to monitor his stress.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) men are much less likely than women to admit they are suffering from depression, anxiety, or other stress-related mental illnesses. They are much more likely to be affected by the stigma associated with mental illness and to avoid seeking treatment.
Mental Illness Stigma Prevents Men from Seeking Help
Men may be reluctant to consider the fact that they may be suffering from depression or another stress-related mental illness when going through a divorce. Many men fall prey to society’s unspoken attitude that a man should remain strong and silent about his mental health. Doing so can have disastrous consequences for men undergoing the stress of a divorce and can create unnecessary problems for him and his children in the aftermath of the divorce. Stress can lead to depression and anxiety for both him and his children for years after the divorce is final.
Men must be proactive in monitoring their own stress and that of their children while going through a divorce. Waiting too long can worsen any mental illness and its consequences. Often, the illnesses don’t just go away. Taking preventive measures such as therapy for themselves, their children, and (if possible) involving their former spouses, is essential for maintaining good mental health during and after a divorce.
NIMH estimates that six million men suffer from depression each year in the United States. Their research has found that men are much less likely than women to get the help they need for psychological problems, and often they will simply try to hide their stress or other health problems like depression. The institute states flatly that men “may be unlikely to admit to depressive symptoms and seek help.”
Children’s Mental Health Must Be Monitored
Mental health problems are often related to stress. Divorces are stressful. Men going through divorces must pay careful attention to their levels of stress both during and after the divorce process. Children too are subject to the same stress as their dads, and dads must step up to ensure that their children’s mental health is monitored and treated as needed during the divorce process and for years after. Ideally, both parents will be involved in ensuring the well-being of their children, but the kids can get lost in the shuffle. If both parents are not willing to be involved, it is up to dads to step up and ensure that both their own and their children’s mental health needs are taken care of as the divorce process unfolds. A good first step is to seek the advice of a primary care physician.
Stress comes in many forms, and often it is not obvious to men that their stress has reached a level where medical help is needed. However, there are warning signs, and men going through divorces are well-advised to pay close attention to those signs and make sure they and their kids receive the medical treatment they need.
Recognizing When Stress Requires Medical Help
Everyone has stress, and not all stress is bad, according to experts, but long-term stress like that brought on by going through a divorce is bad stress. It is a medical problem that needs attention like other medical problems. Such long-term stress can lead to other forms of mental illness like anxiety and depression. It can also make going through a divorce all that much harder.
Men getting divorced should learn to recognize the warning signs that their stress is getting beyond the typical stress brought on by work and family issues that they may have experienced and dealt with in the past. Just like a broken leg, stress and other mental health problems are medical problems and must be dealt with accordingly.
While it would be ideal for both parents and their children to go to therapy to help to recognize and cope with stress during a divorce, it is often not possible for both parents to be involved. Many schools have programs for kids whose parents are getting divorced. If a dad cannot get the other parent involved in therapy, he should consider talking with his children’s school counselor. Stress can have a huge effect on many aspects of kids’ lives, and free help is often available at school. It may even be a good idea for a man getting a divorce to have some sessions with a therapist specializing in children’s mental health issues to help him recognize warning signs in his children and learn ways to help them cope.
Have a Plan in Mind for Dealing with Stress
Like telling your kids you are getting divorced, to begin with, it is a good idea not to wing it when helping your kids cope with stress. It is likely you will be able to help in various ways, but first, you will need to be able to recognize the signs of long-term stress and have some definite coping strategies in mind. It is a good idea at the first signs of stress to let your kids know it’s normal for them to feel what they’re feeling. However, just letting them know it’s all going to be OK and not to worry is not enough. You will need to get some experienced medical help so you can provide your children with ways to deal with their stress. Breathing techniques and talking to a school counselor about what they’re feeling can help children immensely in dealing with the stress brought on by their parents’ divorce and the new lives they will be living.
A man must be able to recognize that there is nothing wrong with his own feelings of stress and not to succumb to the stigma associated with mental illness. Men getting divorced must be able to recognize when their stress has gotten to be too much to deal with alone. A man must be able to recognize symptoms of stress in himself and admit to himself that he may need help. A man going through a divorce should be no more averse to seeking medical help for a mental illness than he should be in seeking help for any other medical problem.
Warning Signs of Stress-Related Mental Illness
Men should be particularly mindful of the following warning signs that their stress has reached a level beyond what they can deal with themselves. These are warning signs that their stress has exceeded what they have been used to dealing with day to day. These warning signs indicate that it may be time to seek help in dealing with stress.
The following warning signs are the most common ones. They are an excellent starting point for a dad going through a divorce who needs to reflect on his and his children’s levels of stress.
The National Institute of Mental Health advises men to look for the following signs that stress could lead to a long-term condition:
- Anger, irritability or aggressiveness
- Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
- Increased worry or feeling stressed
- A need for alcohol or drugs
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions
- Engaging in high-risk activities
- Ongoing headaches, digestive issues, or pain
- Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
- Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life
- Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern other people
Once a man has identified any of these signs, a good resource for local options for finding help is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) helpline. NAMI offers great help for a man going through a divorce who needs to find medical help for his stress, other related problems, or even just a group of other men with similar issues to talk with. Talking with others with similar challenges helps men realize they are not alone, and just sharing their stories with others can be of significant therapeutic value in dealing with mental illness.