The Holidays Can Be Stressful??? What?
It’s December. Isn’t it supposed to be the best time of the year? You know…visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads and all that? Unfortunately the reality for many of us is that December and the holidays can be extremely stressful. But not to worry…our excellent Counsellor Olivia Pawluk, M.Ed comes to the rescue with some helpful information to help us manage our holiday stress. Thanks Olivia! 🙂
The Holidays! – Olivia Pawluk, M.Ed.
The holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate, spend time with family, and friends, and engage in valuable traditions. However, it is also an inherent time of stress and difficulty for many people. The following provides some information on causes of holiday stress and ways to combat and manage this time of year.
What causes holiday stress? For many people it is triggered by:
Unhappy memories. Going home for the holidays naturally makes people remember old times, but for you the memories may be more bitter than sweet. If you associate the holidays with a bad time in your life — the loss of a loved one, a previous depression — this time of year will naturally bring those memories back.
Relatives. Holidays can put you in the same room with relatives you avoid the rest of the year.
What’s changed. The holidays can highlight everything that’s changed in your lives — a divorce, a death in the family, a son who’s making his first trip back home after starting college. Any of these can really unsettle a gathering and add holiday stress.
What’s stayed the same. For others, it’s the sameness of family holiday gatherings that depresses them — the same faces, the same jokes, the same food on the same china plates.
When we work to identify the issues that cause us extra stress around the holiday season, then we can better manage our thoughts and feelings regarding these situations.
Holiday Stress Tips
Perhaps more than anything, the key to enjoying and relaxing during the holidays may lie in the way you perceive them. Adjusting your attitude and your expectations can help turn an otherwise stressful holiday into a relaxing one. Here are a few tips that can help you keep your sense of balance and calm during the holidays.
- Be gentle on yourself, and give yourself permission to say “No.” Saying yes when you want to say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. It really is okay to take special time for yourself. If the holidays have you feeling down for whatever reason, indulge in the things that make you feel happy, whether they’re holiday related or not. Also, friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or holiday activity.
- Regain a sense of control by scheduling no more than one or two manageable goals per day, even if they’re as simple as writing a few cards or cleaning a small section of a room. The satisfaction of completing these tasks can add to your sense of well-being and help you get everything done, over a longer period of time.
- If a certain tradition causes more stress and discomfort than joy, give yourself permission to do things differently! Remind yourself that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas. If the usual family gathering is causing holiday stress, try something else. If you’re too overwhelmed to host, discuss other possibilities with family members. Maybe a sibling could have the dinner this year. Ban the word “should.”
- Focus on what you and your family want to do for the holidays instead of what other families are doing. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
- Take advantage of online shopping instead of rushing through malls, make homemade gifts, start a family gift exchange, or give gifts of service, such as volunteering or cooking meals. Also, before you go 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.
- If the thought of cooking Christmas dinner gives you a headache, arrange to have friends and family over to help you cook ahead of time or hold a potluck dinner instead.
- Make a concentrated effort to realign the focus of the holiday to reflect your spiritual or ethical beliefs rather than commercial values. You may need to discuss how you and your family will do this, as it can take many forms depending on your beliefs.
- 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.
- Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays undo all of your habits from the previous months. Overindulgence can add to your stress and guilt.
Try these suggestions:
– Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.
– Get plenty of sleep
– Incorporate regular physical activity into each day
- Don’t overdo it. To reduce holiday stress, you have to pace yourself. Long before the family gatherings actually happen, decide on some limits and stick to them. Stay one or two nights at your parents’ house instead of three or four. Plan to drop by the holiday party for a couple of hours instead of staying all night.
- Ease your obligations. Each year many of us feel obligated to take on tasks like mailing greeting cards and getting the perfect holiday photos. But if these activities stress you out, do what feels better. “Could you skip it this year or send a Happy New Year card or postcard instead?” (This will buy you more time.) Or “How about a holiday letter posted online for your friends and family to view?” That’s much easier than writing and addressing countless cards.In other words, “Give yourself permission to not do something if it feels like a major drain,” And if you want to do it, find solutions to make it less stressful.
The Holiday Blues
Despite our efforts to control and manage holiday stress, for some, the holidays can remain an inherently depressing time. Feelings of sadness, loneliness, and anger can intensify when contrasted with the joy expected of the holidays. Factors that can contribute to holiday depression include:
- Associating the holidays with unresolved family issues or a painful childhood
- Ignoring feelings of sadness, loneliness, or depression in an effort to maintain “holiday cheer”
- Facing the loss of a loved one with whom you have shared the holidays
- Having unrealistic expectations of family and friends
- Having an expectation that you “should” feel good
- Being away from family and friends
- Feeling isolated from others
- Reflecting on losses or disappointments over the past year
- Coping with changes in family obligations, particularly after a recent marriage or divorce
- Drinking more alcohol, which is often more readily available during the holidays (Avoid drinking alcohol to ward off negative feelings. Alcohol can intensify depression.)
Coping with the Holiday Depression
- Try something new. Take a vacation with a family member or friend.
- Spend time with people who care about you.
- Volunteer your time to help others. Spending time with those in need can help you feel less isolated.
- If you are religious, take time to reflect on the spiritual significance of the holidays
- Try to appreciate the good things you have now instead of focusing on the past.
- Stay active. Get outside. Go for a walk. Window shop.
- Accept feelings of sadness or loneliness. These feelings might not go away just because it’s the holidays.
- Get help if you need it. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help anytime of the year.
Remember at Penney Murphy & Associates … we’re here if you need us…and we can help!