Anxiety, Communication, Family of Origin, Family Ties, Mental Health, Parenting, Relationships, San Diego Counseling, San Diego Therapist, Solutions, Stress, Support

Managing Holiday Stress

The holidays can cause overwhelming stress for many people. This time of year can even trigger depression and anxiety for some. This article will focus on ways to remain calm and even enjoy yourself during the holiday season.

Why can holidays be so stressful?

Life may already be stressful, juggling work, family, school, and other obligations. Add to that holiday preparations and you can feel overwhelmed. It’s difficult not to take on too much, and even more difficult to say no. It’s important, though, to set limits, so that you can relax and enjoy this time of year. Much of what we are talking about here can also apply to birthdays, anniversaries, and other special days all year round.

Part of the sense of being overwhelmed comes from EXPECTATIONS – if you are not sure how holiday expectations can stress you out, watch some TV, open a magazine or newspaper, or just walk into your local supermarket or store like Target or Walmart. In our city, Christmas displays went up after Halloween. It can be difficult to get away from the expectation of a picture perfect holiday, but let me give you a couple of thoughts that might work for you. Expectations can often get us into trouble. If you have the bar set way up high, and it falls anything short of that, it can feel disappointing. So, you get to decide what constitutes a good enough holiday. Is it seeing loved ones? Having some time to unwind? Is there a spiritual component to the holidays for you, that can help you rise above the commercialism? Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the media frenzy of what holidays are supposed to look like. Decide what really matters, allow some room to go with the flow, and don’t stress so much about gifts or decorations that you can’t enjoy a dinner with your family or friends.

SHOPPING STRESS is another potential landmine during the holidays. Watch enough Black Friday commercials and pretty soon you may find yourself convinced you can’t live without that new 60” television. Not only does the media encourage us to spend ourselves into financial ruin, we may find it hard not to overspend on friends, family, and coworkers. Gifts are supposed to be from the heart. Don’t let yourself get caught up in guilt or competitiveness or even just the fun of spoiling someone. Set a budget and stick to it. If you shop for gifts, start early so that you don’t find yourself in a last-minute panic on December 24.

Another possible stressor can be FAMILY DYNAMICS. It’s the season to show gratitude and love, right? What if you are struggling to feel that way, or even to remain civil during dinner with certain family members? Maybe one family member always drinks too much. Another gets into shouting matches about politics. Mom and dad are divorced and there are step-parents now – who goes where, with whom, and how to manage each person’s idiosyncrasies can make holidays stressful.  Don’t forget, many of them have their own expectations, as well. It can be a fine line between setting healthy boundaries for holiday get-togethers, and hurting someone’s feelings with those boundaries. The bottom line is that, again, you get to decide what works best for you. If a 5-hour holiday family gathering is too much, split up the time and join them for dessert. If you are part of a couple, arrange an “SOS” signal if one of you feels cornered or needs some support. If you are single, bring a friend to diffuse some of the tension. Take on a task, like helping to serve or cleaning up gift wrap, to keep your focus off any difficult family dynamics. Above all, know that it’s not forever. That said, if the situation is abusive, there is a lot of anger, or drinking, or something that you can’t manage even for a few hours, there is no rule saying you must go.

REMEMBER WHAT MATTERS. This is a time of year for reflection, for gratitude, and for connecting with others. If you find yourself feeling isolated, take advantage of resources in your community and reach out. At dinner with your loved ones, take a moment to allow each person to express what they are grateful for this year. Remember those who are no longer with you.  Don’t forget to make self-care a priority as much as you can. Above all, make this holiday season one you enjoy.


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