The holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving and stretching through New Year’s, often involves intense stress and even depression. Some of us parents nostalgically remember the “good old days of Christmas” with pleasant memories that involve family, tradition and peace.
Today’s reality, however, pushes most of us toward the “perfect holiday” facing challenging demands such as parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining; are we having fun yet, and is this the Christmas cheer we remember?
How can we beat the holiday stress and create a positive family memory that will last a lifetime?
Be on guard and notice holiday triggers such as relationships, which can be a challenge regardless of the time of the year, but tensions are often heightened during the holidays. Family misunderstandings and conflicts can intensify, especially if you are forced to stay together in close quarters; however, being without family during the holidays can leave you feeling lonely and sad.
Today’s economy also adds financial worries and stress with the expenses of gifts, travel, food and entertainment; the holidays can definitely put a strain on your budget and overspending is very common.
Physical demands are noticed via extra shopping and socializing, which can be exhausting and increase stress. Exercise and sleep, which are excellent remedies for stress and fatigue, may be put on the back-burner to replace extra holiday chores and errands. The extra stress also will put a strain on your immune system and make you more susceptible to colds and other illnesses.
Rather than waiting until stress takes its toll, try to prevent it from climbing to the peak and regroup and plan early into the holiday season:
1. Acknowledge your emotions: if you have lost a loved one recently, understand its normal to feel sadness and grief. Take time out, express your feelings, cry if you feel like it and don’t force yourself to feel an emotion you don’t have.
2. Ask for help: if you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community or religious support. Volunteering is also a way to raise your spirits and make new friends. If a prolonged feeling of sadness, depression and anxiety continues, reach out for professional help. There are many highly qualified mental health professionals right here in the area.
3. Be realistic about expectations. The holidays don’t have to be “perfect” or consume every minute of the day. Families grow and change, so some of the rituals and traditions may change. Recent divorces and changes in family constellation can add stress to the holidays, a perfect opportunity to create new traditions and make use of media as well (e.g. share pictures and videos via the Internet). Make whatever family structure you have feel like a family and include every member into creating new traditions. This is particularly important for teens, as many parents think they no longer need closeness of a family, however, most teens not only require even more stability and connection with family, they will even express that need.
4. Family differences are additional stress around the holidays, so try to be accepting of family and friends even if they don’t meet your expectations. Try to set aside differences and grievances and respect the fact that most everyone is affected by holiday stress.
5. Plan ahead specific days for shopping, etc., create and stick to a budget and learn to say “no” to tasks that you know you don’t have time to complete. Keep healthy eating, sleep and exercise habits. Keep track of your alone and quiet time. Just a few minutes may rejuvenate and prepare you to handle just about anything.
Don’t allow the holidays to become something you dread, but a season of joy and happiness with pleasant memories that last a lifetime.
Astrid Heathcote is a licensed psychologist with a private practice and residence in Ahwatukee Foothills. Reach her at (480) 275-2249 or www.drastrid.org.