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  • Writer's picturePeggy Spear

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, and He Has Baggage

(Disclaimer: Please don’t read if you are under 10 years old.)

I remember when I found out. That secret. The biggest one in our lifetimes.

Santa wasn’t real. It was my mom. I was 8 years old.

We were at a party at our friends the Hazels’ up in my hometown of Chico. My sister Laura told me – I think she, at 15, had been dipping into the grown-ups ‘ party punch.

This news was confirmed by my best friend Teri, who herself had just found out at school.

For some reason, the news didn’t devastate me. I did what I was supposed to do. I helped out and became an elf. I helped my mom distribute the Santa packages under the tree. And I have been doing that for almost 50 years.

Santa still comes to my house, and will for as long as he can. I get stressed, harried and sometimes irritable, even this year, when we pledged to do no presents and just rented a house in the Sierras.

Yeah right. I’m still a mess. But an excited and joyful little elf. Don’t worry, my depression will hit afterwards and take a deep dive during January. In fact, it was in January of 2015 that my alcohol addiction went to the next level and I started “day drinking.” But that’s a story for another day.

My family is now at that strange age when our kids are adults but there are no little kids. My mom’s grandkids have all grown up, but aren’t at the baby-making stage yet. And this year, because of COVID, we’ll be separated from my grand-nephews for the first time in eight years.

But in a weird twist of very lucky fate, all my has family has had and survived COVID, so we are our own little bubble with our Auntie Body in attendance. We will be together, and that is my Christmas present.

But I’m in the minority this year. Health experts are warning people about holiday depression, especially bad this year. As the Mayo Clinic says, the usual holiday stress can be worse if the coronavirus is spreading in your community. You may be worrying about you and your loved ones' health. You may also feel stressed, sad or anxious because your holiday plans may look different during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I know that is affecting my excitement, but I hope not my joy. But here are some very useful tips the clinic offers; the italics are my thoughts:

“When stress is at its peak, it's hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.

1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones for other reasons, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.

2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events or communities. Many may have websites, online support groups, social media sites or virtual events. They can offer support and companionship.

If you're feeling stress during the holidays, it also may help to talk to a friend or family member about your concerns. Try reaching out with a text, a call or a video chat.

Volunteering your time or doing something to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. For example, consider dropping off a meal and dessert at a friend's home during the holidays.

3. 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. [That’s what is happening with my family, and it’s tough to change.] Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.

4. 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.

5. Stick to a budget. Before you do your gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. [Okay, I’ll admit it: I can’t stick to a budget. I have to learn that tip.]

Try these alternatives:

o Donate to a charity in someone's name.

o Give homemade gifts.

o Start a family gift exchange.


6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with friends and other activities. Consider whether you can shop online for any of your items. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That'll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for meal prep and cleanup. [Hey, you people who do that, I hate you. Can you tell me how to do it?]

7. 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. [This is also a good tip to practice when you are struggling with addiction. In the early stages of sobriety, there is nothing worse than a Christmas Party. Stay home, make your favorite non-alcoholic drink and watch Hallmark movies. You’ll feel so much better in the morning.]

8. Don't abandon healthy habits. Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Try these suggestions:

o Have a healthy snack before holiday meals so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.

o Eat healthy meals.

o Get plenty of sleep.

o Include regular physical activity in your daily routine.

o Try deep-breathing exercises, meditation or yoga.

o Avoid excessive tobacco, alcohol and drug use.

o Be aware of how the information culture can produce undue stress, and adjust the time you spend reading news and social media as you see fit.

9. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Find an activity you enjoy. Take a break by yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner peace. [This is my favorite one.]

10. 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.” [May I also offer up the advice of Life Coaches – they will help you through hard times.]

I am also including the suicide hotline here: 800-273-8255. Even if you’ve had fleeting thoughts or suicidal ideation – you may have thought about how you would do it – give them a call.

I am still playing Santa’s helper this week. In fact I am Santa, for my adult children (sorry to spoil the secret, kids), their significant others, my husband, the dogs and my mom. It brings me joy. And this season is about believing that there is joy. I pray that everyone finds it in surprising, satisfying and in your own special way.

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