Emotional health can impact your overall health and wellness. During the holidays, people tend to deal with a range of emotions as they travel, spend time with family, buy gifts, plan parties, mourn the loss of loved ones or dream of the future. Managing social and spiritual life can feel more cumbersome over the holidays.
As we deal with all of this, we will inevitably have emotional responses, both positive and negative. Positive responses like laughing, smiling, happiness, joy, and pleasure increase your sense of mental well-being, increases your immune response and causes a relaxation response.
When we are angry, frustrated or stressed our heart pumps faster and our blood pressure increases when we are under constant stress it lowers our immune system and makes us more likely to get sick.
So how do we keep our emotional well being in check?
The first step is to realize when you feel, tense, frustrated, or stressed and what is particularly causing it. Fear of disappointing family or friends can lead to mental discomfort, but learning to say no, without fear or guilt can drastically improve your emotional state.
“People are overcommitted,” says Marc D. Skelton, PhD, PsyD, a psychologist in Laguna Niguel, Calif. “Christmas and other holidays around this time are always supposed to be fun, and you’re supposed to do a good job in terms of entertaining friends and family.”
In an attempt to live up to the season’s tall orders, “people will just run from pillar to post,” he says. It’s not even “Christmas” anymore, some of his clients lament. It’s “Stressmas.”
We tend to overload ourselves with inherited traditions, even when they no longer fit into our busy lives, says Elaine Rodino, PhD, a psychologist in Santa Monica, Calif. If one’s mother “baked a thousand cookies and gave them to everyone she knew,” Rodino says, “people feel obligated to follow the same kinds of things.”
You don’t have to bake all those cookies, Rodino says. “You can start your own traditions.” And you can learn to say no to lots of other demands, too, including party invitations that don’t entice or a whopping gift list that could clean out a mall.
“The spirit of the holidays is gratitude and giving,” says Patti Breitman, co-author of the book How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty. “It’s very satisfying to offer support to the people we love, help out a neighbor, or do something positive for the community,” Breitman writes. But “the conflict arises when we continually agree to things that please everyone but ourselves or when we commit to tasks for which we have no time or desire.”
By saying “yes” to every holiday invitation, cookie swap, white elephant party and demand that comes your way, we end up exhausted and broke. Instead, reflect on what matters most about the holidays, experts say, whether it’s sending greeting cards to maintain relationships, tree trimming, baking, religious observances, seeing family and friends, supporting a charitable cause, or just relaxing.
When you know your priorities, you can turn down the less important things, Breitman says. “It’s easier to say ‘no’ if you know what you’re saying ‘yes’ to.”