If you told folks you’ll be having a “Christmas in the country,” it would likely evoke imagery of snow-covered gabled roof barns, vintage trucks toting fresh cut pine trees, and fresh-baked holiday pies — all those feel-good rural Americana holiday vibes. But the reality for many of us is not so cheery. The season often brings with it more stress, depression, and ill-feelings than are seemingly worth it. It’s paradoxical to think that the “most wonderful time of the year” tends to be anything but — and can be met with lots of moans and groans.
Different mental health surveys suggest people feel significantly more stressful, anxious, and depressed from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day than during the rest of the year. There are a jumble of reasons contributing to this. Common culprits include social functions, finances, and a more hectic schedule. There are also a lot of very personal sore spots this time of year: Family dramas rise to the surface, we reminisce about old times, and departed loved ones are sorely missed. Oh, and to top it all off our lovely government has decided this is a good time to get us thinking about the taxes looming just around the corner.
It makes sense most people report the largest source of holiday mental health strain isn’t work-related at all — it’s based around the home. In a normal 9-to-5 scenario, the professional world may serve as a bit of an escape. Farming, already well documented as one of the most stressful occupations, just so happens to also be one of the closest to home. It’s also a lifestyle that cherishes family ties with deeply rooted traditions, making holiday stress and depression all the more detrimental. Luckily, there are small but helpful changes you can make to at least mitigate the dreaded “holiday blues” around the farm.
Don’t be afraid to say “no”: Overscheduling is one of the worst perpetrators to holiday stress. Balance family time with the kids, the in-laws and friends by making arrangements early on if possible. In the same beat, don’t be afraid to acknowledge when too much is too much. Remember, there is still plenty of dull winter left for get-togethers and catching up. Offer to postpone certain social functions to a post-holiday date.
Start new traditions: This one might be intimidating at first, but you may be pleasantly surprised at the outcomes! Taking on new family projects or activities can be a nice stress reliever amidst the hectic seasonal demands and dull winter doldrums. A simple new tradition can give you and your family something to look forward to, and it may help foster new memories instead of dwelling on the past. Take this little opportunity to “own” the season by creating something enjoyable you can control.
Keep to your routines, but have fun: Human beings are creatures of habit. Sticking to a regular routine is good for your own peace of mind and overall sanity. When possible, do your best to keep to the usual bedtime and morning chore schedules. In the same vein, keep your work tasks separate from your recreational time as much as possible. Defining a clear “work mode” from “play mode” is a mentally healthy way to alleviate stress and ensure you’re giving yourself fair time to sit back and relax with those who matter most to you.
Be optimistic about upcoming opportunities: I know, I know, everyone is sick of hearing this … especially farmers. And I’m not saying this is an easy one, between the disappointment of futures markets, international affairs, commodity prices, and the general agribusiness climate, it can feel like there is little to look forward to. So instead of hinging your optimism and hopes on things beyond your personal control, be hopeful about the changes you can make. Start with manageable, realistic New Year’s resolutions. These can be small but encouraging things to spruce up the farm, improve yourself, or strengthen family bonds. Maybe you have a hobby you’ve always wanted to pick up or have some crazy idea to boost additional on-farm income. It could be a farm show or conference you’ve always wanted to hit or a way to better manage your finances.
The human mind is a powerful thing, moreso than we realize. Don’t undermine your capability to better yourself and your own little corner of the world.
Jaclyn Krymowski is a graduate of The Ohio State University with a major in animal industries and minor in agriculture communications. She is an enthusiastic agvocate, professional freelance writer, and blogs at the-herdbook.com.