November 26, 2022

COLUMN: Just put the tree up

Let’s be frank - this time of year sucks.

My face hurts when I go outside. It’s dark at 4 p.m. We’re basically trapped in our homes due to a lack of sunlight and warmth. Let’s not even start with having to get up earlier to heat up and scrape off the car to get to work or school on time.

Even without the complications of Iowa’s weather, this time of year is known for increasing rates of stress, depression and anxiety.

A National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) study showed that 64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse. “For many people the holiday season is not always the most wonderful time of the year,” said NAMI medical director Ken Duckworth (in an interview before the pandemic). For individuals and families coping with mental health challenges, the holiday season can be a lonely or stressful time, filled with anxiety and/or depression. If you’re living with a mental health condition, stress can also contribute to worsening symptoms.”

For starters, there are people looking at a different holiday season this year. A familiar face missing from the dinner table can turn a joyous season into one of sadness.

Differing opinions can make family conversations uncomfortable whether it be politics, family drama or grudges.

There’s also the stress of travel, balancing whose house to go to for which holiday. We try to find a way to please everyone, and yet, it is ourselves we let down.

There are also an overwhelming amount of tasks set before the holidays. Visitors coming in to town, cooking, baking, shopping, wrapping presents, getting the turkey thawed just right, just to name a few.

With the pressures of social media, everyone seems to have the perfect holiday preparations. Their food looks better, their house looks more expensively decorated, their families look happier. This increases the need to make everything picture perfect.

When gifts are equated with thoughtfulness, kindness and love, it can be difficult when money is tight. We’ve been trying to save money, and I know it will be difficult for me this holiday season. I love having a tree full of presents for my loved ones.

Here’s my point - in a time where joy can be difficult to obtain, find it in any way you can.

Social media and conversations are filled with talk of Christmas. People disagree about when is the appropriate time to decorate, put the tree up and listen to Christmas music.

If it brings you joy, just put the tree up. In turn, if your spouse finds joy in the holiday season, encourage their happiness - even if you would prefer to wait until mid-December.

I despise winter. Even fall doesn’t do it for me. But I absolutely love Christmas. I always waited until Thanksgiving to decorate for Christmas - to my husband’s disappointment. He’d be happy if I waited until Dec. 23.

Last year, I told him I wanted to decorate early. That I had been under a lot of stress and I wanted a night to forget it all and enjoy the holiday. He (begrudgingly) obliged.

From the tree to my grandma’s Christmas village to the little pops of holiday spirit found throughout the home, there’s something magical about the way the home lights up.

One thing I’ve taken time to do every day is write down one thing I’m grateful for. When I get to work, it’s one of the first things I do in the morning. Gratitude has been shown to improve mental health. With it being Thanksgiving season, it’s the perfect time to add this simple practice into your daily routine.

In a Harvard Health study, one group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives.

Don’t go too hard on yourself or others this holiday season. Embrace the messy, encourage smiles and always appreciate time spent with loved ones.

Cheyenne Roche

CHEYENNE ROCHE

Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.