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With the approach of the holidays come emotional challenges, stressors within the family dynamics, and unease about unhealthy behaviors that may crop up during this time of year. Yet there are real ways to not just "survive" the holidays, but to actually make this season happier than ever before. Here are some ways to create long-lastng memories well after the holiday season is over:
1. Keep Expectations Realistic: Even before Halloween is over, we get bombarded by the media with ads, commercials and the like painting the holiday season as a time filled with joy, family gatherings, and celebrations. For some, this is just not reality. Understand that some people face a level of challenge during the holiday season. Therefore, trying to manage your expectations without judgement can help decrease feelings of anger and disappointment if things don't turn out to be picture-perfect.
2. Maintain Self-Care: Yes, there is a way to feel balanced during the holiday season! Even with family and friends around, it is still important to take some "me" time. No matter where you are, continue with your yoga, meditation, exercise, or other practices that make you feel grounded and calm. If weather permits, go for a walk. Listen to some soothing music, take a warm shower or bath, or simply steal away a few minutes to find a quiet place to read.
3. Give to Others: This one is so important! It's so easy to get wrapped up in our own holiday commitments, which may feel stressful and taxing. Engaging in volunteer work to help those less fortunate in your community, assisting at a soup kitchen or food pantry, giving your time at an animal shelter, or gathering toys for kids can make you feel good about yourself and the holidays.
4. Practice Gratitude: More and more studies are showing just how much of a positive impact on our physical and mental well-being focusing on gratitude can have. Take the time to jot down everything you are grateful for, whether that be people, pets, circumstances, or anything big or small that brings you joy in your everyday life. Doing this can elevate our mood and offer us many reasons to celebrate.
As Mental Health Awareness Week (May 11-17) comes to a close, it's a good time for us as modern women to recognize that this balance between perfectionism and achievement has become an all-too-common problem and a barrier to effective leadership. Essentially, it's a confidence-killing cycle of self-doubt. First, we attempt a task with the standard of perfection, and when that impossible goal isn't reached, we take it as confirmation of our insufficiency. If you count yourself among perfectionists, you'll likely notice it playing out in a sequence of procrastination (a result of our fear that we don't have what it takes), stress (as we scramble to complete the task and wait for the evaluation of our performance), and burn-out (when we can no longer keep up with the cycle). Sure, the results are often of a high caliber, but perfectionists are unlikely to acknowledge the quality of the final product, instead focusing on the minute details that didn't meet their standards.
In contrast, substituting a standard of realistic high achievement rather than a standard of perfectionism allows us to finish with a sense of satisfaction in our work and an improved, leadership-building sense of self-efficacy that encourages us to take on greater challenges in the future and execute them well. The question is, how does one begin to make such changes in their ways of thinking?
- A good place to start is by identifying areas of your life where a standard of "good enough" is truly sufficient. For example, earning an 'A' on an exam is still an excellent score even if you earned a 94% rather than a 100%. Likewise, cooking a healthy meal doesn't have to look like it was made by the Barefoot Contessa. Set realistic goals for achievement in areas of lesser concern to promote exceptional performance in the few places where it matters most to you.
- Remind yourself that it is okay to say "no" to taking on additional commitments if you feel overwhelmed by your current engagements. If you have time to execute a few tasks at a high level, you will be more satisfied with your performance than with many tasks you have to scramble to complete.
- Finally, engage in positive affirmations. Rather than focusing on what you could have done differently, identify the areas of a task where you did well. Remind yourself of those achievements, however small, to build confidence for future endeavors and reduce the fear of failure that fuels perfectionism. For example, an affirmation such as, "I've done well in all of my past races, so I will most likely do well in this one" is better fuel for your next 5K than focusing on the fact that you didn't complete your last race at a faster pace than your running buddy.
With the numerous roles Theta women take on, the demand on our time, skills, intellect, and emotions is higher than ever. If you feel overwhelmed with your current commitments and the high standards associated with them, you are not alone. Take the mental health screening on the Kappa Alpha Theta website to assess if you may need help, or visit your campus counseling office or local mental health professional.
However, when the sadness becomes a feeling you have most of the day, it can be a symptom of something more. Intense sadness that stays with you for two weeks or more can also be an indication that you might be suffering from depression. Other symptoms include:
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Difficulty sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
The good news is that depression is a treatable condition. A free and quick anonymous screening can identify if your symptoms may be consistent with depression. You can find it on the Sisters Supporting Sisters page.
Mindfulness is a practice in which you focus on the physical feelings of what you are doing, and maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness. For example, walking mindfully is a practice in which when you walk, you focus on what you are feeling and seeing. You focus on the feeling of your feet touching the ground, the air on your face, and the sights in front of you. It's pretty different than walking around your neighborhood thinking about how you're going to get everything done, isn't it?
It's important to focus on all this without judging the experience as good or bad. Some people find mindfulness easier than other forms of meditation because it does not require that you "clear" the mind. Instead, you do have something to focus on and that focus can take you out of feelings of anxiety and put you in a calmer state.
Of course, simply practicing mindfulness will not address everyone's anxiety. Another step in addressing any mental health symptoms is taking a free and anonymous screening, which can be found on the Sisters Supporting Sisters page.
Have you tried mindfulness? Share in the comments how it has worked for you.
- Cultivate gratitude. It may sound like new-age bunk, but thinking about what you have and being grateful for it is becoming a new mantra in the psychology field for good reason: It works! Next time you're pining for something different in your life, think of this quote: "Never let what you want prevent you from enjoying what you have."
- Eat enough. You probably already know that being hungry makes you cranky, but research shows that calorie intake that is too low actually releases cortisol, the stress hormone. If you're trying to limit calorie intake, experts recommend cutting as few as 50 calories a day until you reach a comfortable amount.
- Practice kindness. Being kind to others improves our connections to people, helps us perceive others more positively, and actually produces "feel-good" chemicals in the brain. This one is easy and will improve your mood as well as the moods of those around you.
- Get outside. Next time your mood is lagging, instead of hitting the coffee pot in the office, take a walk outside. It doesn't have to be long or even vigorous. Just 5 minutes of natural light and some outdoor air will improve your mood.
- Check yourself. This step takes fewer than 5 minutes and can make a big difference. Take an anonymous and free mental health screening on the Sisters Supporting Sisters page to see if your symptoms need professional attention.
What tips have you found useful to reduce stress and improve your mood? Share in the comments section below.
Oftentimes, feelings of depression, anxiety and stress are likely to build during this time. If you have lost a loved one or are struggling with change in your family, this may be a time when the change may feel more prominent. Your family may need to alter a tradition or celebrate in a different way to alleviate some of the pain.
If symptoms of anxiety or depression are keeping you company this holiday season, don't lose hope. Take the first step to a better place by taking Kappa Alpha Theta's online screening on the Sisters Supporting Sisters page.
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