With Thanksgiving just past and Christmas around the corner, the 2017 holiday season is in full swing. If you ask just about anyone you know how they feel about this time of year, you’re bound to get an earful – from the office “Christmas elf” who starts listening to carols in July to the neighborhood Grinch who can’t wait until the whole seasonal show is over and done! For some these December days bring true joy, while for others they conjure a sense of profound sadness. And let’s face it: with family gatherings, decorations, shopping trips and holiday open houses, the jam-packed days leading up to December 25th can truly be filled with stress.
As a service to our AgingOptions Blog readers and radio listeners, we offer this helpful and timely article that just appeared a few days ago on the website NextAvenue. “The holidays are supposed to be a time of thankfulness, reflection, observance and celebration,” says the article, written by author Candy Arrington. “But too often, the idealistic visions of a perfect holiday are marred by tensions and stress.” Adding to these tensions are some of our own self-imposed anxiety-generators, including over-spending, over-commitment, and the sometimes overwhelming and unrealistic expectations of ourselves and those around us. Are we doomed to a stressful December? Definitely not, writes Arrington: “There are adjustments you can make…that can bring joy and peace to the season.”
We would add this observation: the holiday season can be particularly difficult for seniors. You may have lost a loved one in the recent past. You might feel pressure to spend money for gifts that you really can’t afford, or to attend holiday gatherings you would just as soon skip. Maybe there’s an aging person in your family for whom this time of year is challenging because of physical frailty or beginning signs of cognitive impairment. As you read these tips, see if some of them might help you brighten the season not only for yourself but for others in your circle of close friends and relatives.
Here are NextAvenue’s tips for cutting holiday stress, along with our own comments.
- Have realistic expectations: This may be the most important tip of all. “Magazines, TV shows, even commercials depict elaborate holiday decorations, spotless homes and bountiful feasts,” writes Candy Arrington. “All of those images push us toward unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. De-stress by doing what is realistic for you without feeling guilty, lazy or inadequate.”
- Be flexible: This may be the year you have the Big Holiday Dinner at someone else’s house or adjust the way you observe other traditions. Let it go! “Be willing to get together on a different day before or after the holiday if need be. The actual day isn’t as important as the opportunity to gather in a relaxed, unrushed atmosphere,” says the article. The more inflexible you are, the more frustrated you make yourself and others.
- Avoid reigniting old conflicts: This is especially important in today’s politically-charged atmosphere, but for some reason family gatherings can re-open old relational wounds. This may mean you need to have a healthy conversation with a family member beforehand to keep conflict from ruining the family celebration.
- Downgrade décor: As Arrington suggests, just because neighbors or family members decorate excessively doesn’t mean you have to. “Simple decorations are just as festive and perhaps more peaceful than over-the-top extravagance,” she says. “Include a few items that are special to you, your children or your grandchildren, but don’t feel obligated to use everything in your attic or buy more.”
- Don’t bust the budget: The average American in 2015 spent $882 on holiday gifts, says Investopedia. Ignore the hype, and plan ahead for modest gift-giving that falls within your budget. Also, if possible (and safe), some people advise using cash: you’ll avoid the post-holiday hangover when those bills come due, and many studies suggest you’ll spend less. Credit card users have been shown in some studies we’ve surveyed to spend between 20 percent and 100 percent more for the same item as those using cash. (One personal recommendation from your Blog correspondent: a little book called Hundred Dollar Holiday by writer Bill McKibben – a fun and fresh perspective on Christmas traditions including gift-buying!)
- Resist over-scheduling: We can speak from experience about this problem, and we agree with NextAvenue’s Arrington when she advises, “What seems doable initially may turn into a frustrating obligatory marathon rather than a joyous time. Leave holes in your calendar for rest, quiet evenings at home or impromptu gatherings. You’ll be glad you did.” Guard your calendar, because nobody else is going to do it for you!
- Plan ahead concerning diet and exercise: This one is obvious and yet we often use a festive season like Thanksgiving and Christmas to avoid the gym and eat and drink too much. Certainly those get-togethers with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers call for times of fun and celebration, but use some common sense and you’ll enjoy the season more.
- Reserve some “peace and quiet” time for personal reflection: This is especially important because for many the holiday season reflects their faith tradition, something too often lost in the glitz and the noise. “Carve out time to reflect on blessings and pleasant memories,” says Arrington. “Read inspirational books or faith-based teachings if those speak to you. Make a list of what you’re thankful for or write an account of a special holiday memory. Time spent in quiet reflection soothes stress and reminds us of what is really important about the holidays.” This is good advice.
Here’s another way to give yourself and your family a gift this holiday season: make 2018 the year you finally get serious about planning for your future in retirement. Here at AgingOptions we encourage you to join Rajiv Nagaich soon for one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, where you’ll learn first-hand about the comprehensive approach to the planning process that we call LifePlanning. With your LifePlan in place, you’ll be uniquely equipped to preserve your assets in retirement; you’ll be able to avoid becoming a burden to those you love; and you’ll escape the trap of one day being forced against your wishes into institutional care. Your finances, medical care, legal protection, housing options, even family communications can actually all work seamlessly together, thanks to the power of an AgingOptions LifePlan.
Ready to accept our invitation? There’s no cost or obligation. Simply click here for dates, times and locations of upcoming seminars, then register online or by phone during the week. Meanwhile enjoy the festive holiday season using the tips from NextAvenue. As you do you can look forward to greater peace of mind than you ever thought possible, with a LifePlan from AgingOptions. Age on!
(link to www.nextavenue.org)