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Creativity for Christmas cheer

Health and Wellness, General

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — or is it? For many people, the winter holidays are more stressful than exciting.

“The dizzying pace of the holidays — especially when Thanksgiving falls so late in November — makes the ‘dash’ all the more stressful,” says Dr. Pritham Raj, medical director of Adventist Health Portland’s Emotional Wellness Center.

Major holiday stressors include:

Family: No matter how much we love our loved ones, it’s always a challenge to bring people together who may live very different daily lives and expect them to fit back together under the umbrella of “family.”

Finances: The end of the year can feel like a financial black hole. Between buying gifts, making charitable donations and trying to keep up with the groceries and drinks necessary for holiday parties, it’s no wonder many Americans wake up to depleted savings and increased credit card debt come January.

Expectations: Thanks to movies, TV, Christmas cards and catalogs, the winter holidays have become idealized as smiles, perfectly wrapped gifts, snow, twinkle lights, and glitter. No matter how much we know that standard is impossible, many of us have a nagging belief we are failing ourselves and our families every holiday.

Get creative

While holiday stress may be inescapable, including creative activities in your winter celebrations can offer stress relief as well as other benefits. “The goal around the holidays or anytime we tap into creative outlets is that it increases the neuroplasticity of the brain, allowing it to exercise in new ways and not just relieve stress,” says Dr. Raj. “We actually strengthen the areas of the brain that we don't use on a regular basis.”

The best part of creativity is you get to decide for yourself what counts. “For some, baking or cooking is a stress reliever, while for others it is the scariest task imaginable,” Dr. Raj explains. “The same goes for decorating, card-writing, etc. It totally depends on you and your personality.”

The most important thing is to choose creative activities that are fun and not overwhelming. Combining activities with people who add to your joy is a plus.

“In general, getting together with others is much more preferable than doing creative activities in solitude,” Dr. Raj advises. “For example, it was much more delightful to prepare my holiday greeting cards this year when I did it in ‘assembly-line’ fashion with my daughter rather than to do it alone.”

He also recommends setting a budget for your creative activities so you don’t add a financial stressor to the holidays. “It is important to set a budget on any creative endeavor and stay within budget so your creative activities, such as putting up Christmas lights, doesn't cost you a fortune,” he says.

Creative crafts, carols and more

So what are some affordable ways to have creative fun this holiday? We’ve collected a list to inspire you, but these ideas are just a start. The key is to find things that are novel and fun for you.

Paper snowflakes: Old-fashioned and simple, paper snowflakes are as unique as their real-life counterparts. With supervision, even young kids can enjoy making these with you. Once made, tape them to your windows or string them like garland around your home.

Gingerbread houses: Many stores offer gingerbread house kits, which makes this craft easier than ever. If you don’t like the included decorations, head to a store like WinCo that has bulk candies and let your imagination go wild.

Caroling: Too few people enjoy this timeless holiday activity. You don’t have to sing like an angel to spread some cheer through your neighborhood by gathering family and friends

Pomander balls: You can use simple grocery store ingredients to create a classic craft. Simply press whole cloves into a whole orange. Pomander balls can be set on tables and shelves to add a beautiful scent to any room. Or you can add a string and hang them with your other decorations.

International cooking: Do a quick search online for favorite holiday recipes from around the world. Then be brave, gather the ingredients and embark on a bold journey to experience another culture through food. Invite friends and family to join you — it’s a great way to be creative and social at the same time.

Whatever you choose, keep it simple and fun. “It is important to plan ahead and set limits on the activities you are going to sign up for and be realistic with your schedule,” Dr. Raj warns. “It is still important to get plenty of sleep, eat right and get physical activity.”

Be kind to you

Most of all, keep an eye on how you’re really doing. Just because the magazines show everyone smiling their way through the holidays doesn’t mean it’s strange to feel down. Dr. Raj points out that depression can begin or deepen this time of year, especially if the holidays are associated with unpleasant life events or the loss of loved ones or relationships. “That’s why it is also important to seek professional help if you are struggling,” he says.

If you find yourself struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out. To be connected with one of Adventist Health Portland’s mental health providers, call us at (503) 261-5953.