Coping with Holiday Stress
By Dr. Jill Langer
While the holidays are something many of us look forward to and enjoy, they are also a source of increased stress and anxiety. The challenges of managing time, family obligations, expectations, and money are all heightened under the hopes and pressures of celebrating the season.
During the holidays especially, we struggle with finding the time to “get it all done.” Buying gifts, sending cards, decorating, preparing special foods, visiting family, and/or your own cultural and family traditions can become taxing as they compete with our usual routines and obligations leaving us feeling stressed and under pressure. All these demands can dampen our enjoyment of the holidays and obscure the meaning behind what we are celebrating including our religious or spiritual beliefs and/or time with our families.
Increased time with our family members adds another layer of stress as underlying tensions or issues are often intensified during the holidays. Sometimes our holidays feel too full of family; It can feel like we have too many people to see all at once and we find ourselves rushing from one house to another. Other times, the holidays intensify feelings of loneliness and disconnection. Perhaps we live far from our family and cannot afford to travel. Perhaps we’ve lost family members and are struggling to get through the holiday season without them.
Given these increased stressors, it becomes important for us to do what we can to support our ability to cope during this time. Below are some suggestions for navigating the holiday season:
Accept your feelings rather than judging them. Understand that it is normal to have a range of feelings during the holidays and especially towards our family members. This does not mean something is terribly wrong with us or our families.
Do your best to let go of perfectionism. We often have images of “the perfect holiday” or family gathering. These perfect images create pressure and interfere with our ability to accept and enjoy what is because we compare it to what we think it should be. An amazing thing happens when we are able to accept our family members as they are: Our appreciation of them increases and our annoyance with them decreases!
If you are feeling lonely or isolated, remind yourself you are not the only one, though it can sometimes feel like it. Reach out to friends, family, community, church/synagogue, or volunteer organizations. Consider contacting someone you haven’t talked to in a long time. Odds are, they will be delighted to hear from you.
Prioritize your to-do lists and let go of anything that is not essential. Consider what will seem most important and memorable when you think back on this season. We remember and treasure the time we spent with others we care about and participating in the rituals that give our holidays meaning. We seldom remember or care about how clean our house was or did we give/get the “perfect” gift.
Don’t let go of your normal routine entirely. While it is likely you will want to make adjustments to accommodate and enjoy aspects of the holidays, try not to abandon your whole schedule. Keeping regular meal, sleeping, and exercising times are especially helpful to us when coping with stress.
Keep a positive, flexible attitude. Let go of trying to force or things and focus on being open to enjoying the moments as they come. Endeavor to be grateful for the people and things in your life.
I wish you and your family a most enjoyable and meaningful holiday season!