Boxing Day

By Chandra Orr

September 4, 2009 5 min read

Boxing Day is Dec. 26. No, it doesn't have anything to do with muscled combatants sparring on pay-per-view.

It's an English tradition rooted in charity, a day for those more fortunate to give to those in need -- and observing the tradition is the perfect way to beat the post-holiday blues.

The holiday likely originated in the Middle Ages, when servants were required to work on Christmas Day. When the household help took their leave the day after, employers often presented boxed gifts in appreciation of their service.

Over the years, Boxing Day grew to honor all service workers, from tradesmen to mail carriers and doormen. Some still take time to thank service workers with gifts or checks, but for most, Dec. 26 means just one thing: killer sales.

Like Black Friday, Boxing Day is the day for big bargains and mad dashes to the mall, as stores slash prices in the hopes of meeting their annual sales goals. But if you want to beat the blahs, forget shopping and fight the urge to exchange those unwanted gifts.

Wrapping up the holidays so quickly only helps finalize the experience, and it's the finality that leads to post-holiday depression, according to stress management expert Dr. Ronald Nathan, psychologist and author of "Relieving Your Holiday Stress and Achieving Your New Year's Resolutions" (Upward Press).

"We have a natural urge for closure, for knowing that everything's done, but when everything is done, there's that emptiness," Nathan says.

"The kettle is overflowing with intense involvement leading up to Christmas. The day after, the heat is off, so most people do suffer some adverse post-holiday depression," he says.

High expectations followed by a sudden letdown once the season comes to a close -- that has a way of quashing the spirit of the season. Add to that the stress and fatigue of balancing family obligations, shopping and entertaining and all that holiday merriment quickly can turn to depression, Nathan says.

Instead, extend the joy of the season. Observe the true meaning of Boxing Day and focus on those less fortunate.

"Plan an activity for the day after Christmas the way you plan the rest of the holiday so, barring total exhaustion, you have something to look forward to," Nathan advises. "Make it a special time to share with others."

Pitch in at the local soup kitchen; spend some time reading to children at a nearby hospital; or help out at the animal shelter. Plenty of extra people show up to help out during Christmas, but once the holidays are over, the number of helping hands declines as volunteers return to work and school, so extra help is in high demand.

Instead of heading for the mall to return and exchange those not-quite-right gifts, pack them as donations for charity. There's no shame in regifting to those less fortunate. Make room for all the new presents by donating an equal number of gently used items to charity. Get the whole family involved. The kids can weed through the toy box. Hubby can tackle the garage. And Mom finally has an excuse to reorganize her closet.

Don't forget those close to home. Take time to connect with others who may be experiencing their own holiday letdowns. Help the kids bake a batch of cookies for the mail carrier; put together an impromptu neighborhood potluck; or just take time to stop by and chat with an elderly neighbor, who might not get out much in the winter.

The goal is to shift the focus from your daily life and the holiday stress by doing things for others.

"If we get out of our own problems and don't dwell on the disappointments and the failed expectations from the holidays, it can really lift our moods," Nathan says.

Think of it as a mental health day.

"Doing for others has definite psychological benefits. It's a good feeling; it's called the helper's high," Nathan says.

Much like the runner's high, the so-called helper's high stems from the release of endorphins and other feel-good brain chemicals, such as dopamine, Nathan explains.

"Volunteers talk about a sudden warm feeling, increased energy and even a feeling of euphoria. It's a rush followed by increased feelings of self-worth and relaxation," he says. "It's a wonderful side effect of giving to others, and it extends the joy of the holidays."

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