Help for the Holidays

The holiday season is in full swing. Signs of it greet us everywhere; decorations line the streets and fill the stores and Christmas music fills the air. While the holidays have a reputation for being a time of joy, for many people they are a source of increased stress or even depression. If you find yourself feeling less than joyous this holiday season and are wondering why, you’re not alone. Keep reading to better understand the sources of holiday stress and what you can do to improve your holiday experience.

One of the biggest sources of stress is the increased demand on resources that we already feel are limited: our money and our time. ‘Tis the season for gifts and social gatherings. While these may be sources of happiness, they can also strain our resources. Finding the money in an already tight budget to buy gifts and participate in festivities, or the time in an already tight schedule to locate the perfect gift or attend parties, can feel like a burden.

Striking a balance between our work and home lives seems both more important and more difficult at this time of year. While social demands are increasing, work demands may stay the same or increase. Salaried employees may find they need to complete the same amount of work, or more, in a shorter amount of time because of work parties or days off. For hourly employees, taking time off to meet social demands means less income at a time of increased expenses. Those with children may need to arrange for childcare while they work and the children are out of school. These demands can feel overwhelming.

Another major source of negative emotions this season is the difference between our expectations and the reality of our experiences. Common expectations include giving and receiving gifts, spending time with friends and family, and enjoying ourselves. We expect things to be happy and perfect, and when they fall short of our expectations, we feel disappointed. This disappointment can be particularly strong for people who have lost a loved one in the last year, lack social support, have to work on holidays, or have recently lost significant portion of their income.

So what can you do to manage the inevitable stresses of this season with your sanity intact (and maybe even enjoy yourself)? Assessing your priorities and focusing on the true meaning of the season is a great place to start. A friend of mine does this by doing something special with her family each day of December. Possible activities may include baking, holiday decorating, playing games, watching holiday movies, and looking at neighborhood holiday displays. She also limits the number of gifts or amount of money spent on gifts. These strategies help shift her children’s focus toward quality time and away from materialism. To promote the spirit of giving, try volunteering at a shelter or soup kitchen, or donating or wrapping gifts for families in need.

Additional strategies:

  • Give yourself permission to not be perfect.
  • Take at least a few minutes a day to de-stress (e.g. taking a bath, exercising, or talking to a friend).
  •  Make a list of things that need to be done and things that can wait.
  • Write down the things you appreciate in your life. Review and add to the list daily.
  • Set clear boundaries with others.
  • Remember that kids pick up on their parents’ emotions.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, consider seeking professional help.
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