Holiday Season – Celebrations & Stress

The holiday season offers plenty of reasons to be stressed & anxious. Beyond the unwrapped gifts & office parties, the biggest source of stress may by within the family itself. From the family dinner, to the obligations & traditions that seem like a burden instead of a celebration.

For those with challenging families, histories or depression, the holiday stress can in fact trigger more problems. With all of this in mind, having some tools to help prepare yourself, may be helpful.

First a reality check, family relationships are complicated in general. So in most cases, you are not alone in finding family time a challenge.

Second, ask yourself what about the holiday time is making you feel down or upset? Is there something specific you can identify? If you can identify them, they may be easier to rationalize and accept. Having a valid reason to perhaps be upset, may make some of the stress & anxiety ease, because it is understandable to be feeling this way. Some common things that may upset you are:

  • Unhappy memories. Going home to the family home, makes people naturally remember old times. But in some cases the memories aren’t happy ones. You may find yourself thinking of what went wrong, what didn’t work.
  • If anything negative happened close to this time ie: a loss of a loved one, the first anniversary of a loss, you may also be associating those two things together, making this time of year even worse.
  • Consider how you deal with the change in weather, the darkness, the rain, the shorter days. Perhaps that is playing a factor.
  • Toxic relationships: Holidays put people together in ways they usually aren’t, and they are harder to avoid. Feeling like you need to escape or avoid
  • What is different this year, from last year? Has someone died, has someone lost a job? Has someone left home? Has there been a divorce? Any of these things, positive or negative, can add stress to the holidays.
  • What has stayed the same? For some, the monotony, the sameness, the same places, the same stories, the same jokes, the same foods etc., is too much and causes anxiety.

Third, acknowledge that the holiday time typically adds a variety of stressors to your system, that put your health at risk. Your immune system is challenged from cold & flu, from the weather changing getting darker each day, staying up later, changing your diet, drinking more alcohol & sleeping less. All of these things together affect your resilience & tolerance, making it hard to cope with whatever is coming your way.

Any or all of these things can make you feel out of control at the holiday time. We feel we have no choice but to comply with the family rules & regulations, traditions, obligations & expectations, for whatever the duration may be.

This is the first place that you can regain your sense of control at holiday time. Take the opportunity to ask yourself if you really have to it, or is that just the way its always been? Then ask yourself why the thought of doing it makes you upset? Does it remind you of something else that is completely unrelated? If you can, try to make a list of why you would follow the traditions and make another about why you shouldn’t do it. Even just making the list will open your mind and release the stress, so you can still feel like you have some choice in the matter.

The second part that may help is to change your outlook. For a moment consider what would happen / how would you feel if you didn’t do whatever you felt pressured to do? Your first instinct may be a panic response, but sit with it and really think about it. Who does it mean something to? Is there another way you can have the same impact?

The key here is to be aware of what you are doing and why. With some awareness you may find it easier to do something when you think it means so much to someone else. You may also find it is an opportunity for you to do something new & different. It doesn’t mean it is wrong, it could just be something people haven’t considered before.

Once you’ve had a reality check, its time to truly look at what you can really change and what you cannot. Some guidelines:

  • Don’t do the same old thing. Don’t let yourself get upset before you even start. If you expect it to be horrible, then there is no chance it wont be.
  • Don’t expect miracles. If there is conflict in the family, be realistic about your expectations, they aren’t going to change just because it is Christmas. Keep your strength and resources to yourself to get through the time, rather than leaving yourself open & vulnerable by hoping it will all change. If it does happen to great, but don’t set yourself up to fail before you even start.
  • Don’t overdo it. The holidays are a marathon, not a sprint. Plan ahead and give yourself some boundaries you feel comfortable with.
  • Plan in advance, what you will say. Give advance notice you won’t be staying the night, that you have another engagement afterwards etc., so nobody has a chance to have unrealistic expectations of you and your time. That also gives you a certain time that you have to be “on” with planned time to have release of emotions before starting over again.
  • Forget about what things “should” look like. There is no such thing as a perfect holiday. They are all combinations of happiness, sadness, memories & melancholy. There is nothing wrong or shameful about feeling down for the holidays, it is all part of taking stock, valuing memories and experiences. Let yourself off the hook and give yourself permission to be yourself and have your own experience.

The holidays come every year, so don’t worry at all about getting “everything” on this list done. Remember you are doing the very best you can and that is all you can do. That is all that can be expected of you.  Try to remember that this is your holiday too… and you can spend it in ways that mean something to you too…

If you do however find yourself upset or depressed during the holiday times, there is no shame in reaching out for help. Whether to a friend, your counselor or one of the many help lines.

Wishing you a happy holiday time, filled with love & joy, but perhaps most importantly compassion & understanding for yourself.

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