Christ's Mass is a religious and cultural holiday celebrated by billions of people around the world, but it hasn't always been the commercial frenzy that many folks experience today.
The festive tinsel and lights and holiday greens we use to mark the holiday are believed to represent a mix of pre-Christian, Christian and secular themes and origins; meanwhile, several closely related and often interchangeable figures — Santa Claus, Father Christmas, and Saint Nicholas — have their own body of traditions and lore.
But for many of us, at some point, it all starts looking a little tired. Even the most elaborate and festive-looking collection of holiday decor starts gathering dust (although at our house, it takes so long to install all the tiny lights and ornaments on all those evergreen swags over the windows, I've been known to leave it up until April).
And as mental health experts point out, for some, the holidays are actually bad for one's health. Stress and depression can ruin the holidays for some people, and for them, it's worth taking steps to lighten the burden.
The Mayo Clinic offers the following tips to help ward off the twin demons of stress and depression at holiday time:
• Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's OK to take time to express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.
• Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
• Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can't come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
• Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
• Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Try these alternatives: Donate to a charity in someone's name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.
• Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every project or activity. If it's not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
• Don't abandon healthy habits. Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity.
• Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Take a walk at night and stargaze. Listen to soothing music. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
• Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
There's lots more on the subject of coping with stress over the holidays at the Mayo Clinic website. Just point your web browser to: www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/MH00030.