It’s that time of the year again when friends and family gather for the holidays. Sharing the company of those we love and care about, the warmth of the season, is a joyous occasion—at least in theory. Reality, however, can be different. Some are dreading this time, and often for good reason.
First, a word about family: Just because you are related to someone doesn’t necessarily mean you must spend time with them, even during the holidays. Truth be told, some people and some families are simply not healthy to be around. Forcing yourself to share the holidays, out of guilt or some false sense of obligation, with those who make you miserable is a recipe for disaster. More than that, it can be bad for your mental health. Many reading this won’t have the holidays off work to begin with. And even if you do, do you want to spend it feeling miserable or like you’re walking on eggshells?
Don’t get me wrong. If you have healthy relationships and boundaries within your family, by all means take the holidays as opportunities strengthen those bonds. Healthy family support is so beneficial to so many first responders. In many cases, family is your first line of defense when things get tricky. Celebrate and give thanks for that.
Regardless, these can still be stressful times. The holidays always seem to be here before we know it. Getting everything done in time is an ever-present challenge this time of year only seems to exacerbate. My advice: Cut yourself some slack. Holidays come every year; there’s no need to put unreasonable expectations upon yourself. If you enjoy extravagant planning and preparation, indulge yourself. But if you don’t—if you can never seem to cram it all in—remember there’s time after the holidays and also there’s always next year.
In the meantime, here are some quick and useful tips for officers and their families to reduce holiday-related stress:
- Talk. Yes, it’s that simple. Talk with those you trust. You can’t carry the weight all by yourself and you don’t have to.
- Accept your limitations. You are not invincible. You, like everyone else, will make mistakes. You must rest, recharge and center yourself, and then do your best.
- Meditate. Even taking two minutes of quiet time can make a big difference in helping you to stop and take a step back. Other options include yoga and deep breathing (e.g., inhale for five seconds, exhale for five seconds and repeat a few times).
- Exercise. Lift weights, do some push-ups, run outdoors or on a treadmill, hit the heavy bag, stretch, go for a walk—just do something. Get out there and burn off some steam in a healthy way. If you don’t have the time, make time. A brisk 20-minute walk at lunch can do wonders. Even 5 minutes walking outside can be beneficial.
- Sleep. Easier said than done, but sleep is restorative and promotes both physical and mental health. Ideally, you should try to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per cycle.
- Hydrate. That means cutting back on the high-caffeine power drinks and caloric sodas. Water is an optimal choice and you can flavor it with sliced fruit or cucumbers.
- Tap into the power of pets. Research has consistently shown that the mere act of petting an animal can reduce stress and blood pressure and improve mood.
- Reconnect. Take time to spend with your family and reconnect with them. They need you as much as you need them to get through this.
- Take breaks from the news. Step back, turn off the TV, put down the phone and disconnect from the world to avoid negative news. It’s okay to set aside a few times during the day to check in, but constant attention is draining. Get news from reliable sources, and don’t feed into rumors and social media.
- Talk to a professional. If you find yourself unable to talk with friends or family or simply want to seek out greater peace in your life, make an appointment with a trained therapist.
So, to all of you, I wish good health, happiness and a wonderful holiday season. Take care of yourselves and stay safe!