What Causes Holiday Stress?

 The holidays offer plenty of reasons to be stressed out and anxious — the gifts you haven’t wrapped or haven’t bought, not having enough money or spending too much money on gifts, food, and alcohol, the office parties, having to travel home for the holidays, getting stuck in bad weather with cancelled flights and all your kids school plays and concerts. But the biggest source of holiday stress for most people is their own family or the in-laws: the family dinner, the family obligations, and family tradition.

Holiday stress is the difference between what you want to do and the expectations you feel placed on you by yourself, family or your partner’s family. Holiday stress can be real or imagined. You may believe there are certain expectations placed on you when really they are “expectations you have created in your own mind”.

 We want to believe in the beautiful happy holiday season. Sitting by the cozy fire, lit candles, mistletoe, and fluffy snowflakes floating down outside. But in reality we don’t have this calmness we’re running around buying last minute gifts, fighting crowds at the mall, shoveling 3 feet of snow, dealing with cranky children, obnoxious people, and over indulging on too many sugar cookies and food.

We want the calmness but we buy into the craziness of the season that we see and hear advertised on TV. When we start having to recreate the magic we see in multimillion dollar commercials, TV shows and advertising then we’re getting caught up in the holiday stress.

 What is it about the holidays that gets people down?

We might have unhappy memories or disappointments about past holidays. While we see so many advertisements and stories about the perfect holiday celebration, this time of year can have sad memories. Some people may have experienced divorce, separation, and estrangement from family members or death in the family or have just had unhappy holidays in the past. December is not always a month full or merriment and positive memories for everyone.

We may have to deal with difficult or toxic relatives. The ones who are critical or insulting of our partners, our children or us. Relatives, who are alcoholics, have drug or substance abuse issues. Relatives who abused us emotionally or physically.

Or we may be tired or feel trapped in the same old family traditions. Maybe you feel obliged to spend every holiday with your parents but you haven’t created your own family holiday traditions. Maybe you feel trapped by traditions or holiday routines that are meaningful to other people but don’t necessary meet your family’s needs. Maybe what you are doing every year is not satisfying to you but you don’t know how to create change.

You may be depressed, suffer from social anxiety or sadness, having experienced a recent death or personal loss. You may have lost your job and don’t know how you will create a festive atmosphere at home this year.

How Can You Cure Holiday Stress?

It’s important to realize you can have control and you can create change for yourself and your family. It’s important for you to take the time and reflect on what are your values and your desires.

– Talk with your partner now about your holiday plans

What do you both want for your family for the holidays? While it might be important for you to visit family, maybe this year have a shorter visit home and choose to spend more time on your own. Some families choose to get together later in January so there is less pressure and chaos driving from home to home.

– Don’t keep on doing the same old thing and expect a better outcome

If you’ve been disappointed or exhausted after each holiday, maybe this year it’s time for a change. What is meaningful to you, your partner, and your family? Talk about what traditions are important for you? You don’t necessarily need to attend every party or event.

With divorced families, it might be a good idea to really talk with your ex about how you share the holidays. While we want our kids home for that special day it’s also important to see the holidays through your children’s eyes. It’s too much to expect your kids to sit down to numerous holiday dinners in a row without a meltdown. The time to talk is now before the holiday madness starts.

Speak with your parents early in the month and arrange your holiday time together for another weekend or day so you have quality time and not just rushed time together. Let your parents know you want to spend quality time with them so they get to know your children.

– Don’t expect miracles & don’t expect others to change just because it’s the holiday season

Remember you can’t fix the family problems over the holidays or overnight. If you are estranged from a family member and they will be at the same family gathering, have the courage to take the first steps now to patch things up. It might not be possible to resolve every conflict.

You and your partner need to have a talk about how you want to deal with family tensions before the holidays. Problems with in-laws and family members can cause major tension within your own relationship. You and your partner can create a plan together on how to manage and minimize conflict with your families.  You can’t change how they behave towards you all you can do is control how you respond. Now is the time to make the plan on how to manage and minimize conflict.

– Don’t overdo it

Too much of anything is too much for everyone. Try to keep everything in moderation and help your younger kids stick to their sleep routine. Make sure to find down time or quiet time during the holidays. Plan a morning or afternoon so you all can slow down and recharge. Holidays are for recharging not exhausting yourself. Find the time to go outdoors and get some fresh air or head off to the gym to burn off excess energy and calories.

 5) What if you are depressed or sad over the holidays or alone?

Being alone during the holidays can be tough especially if your family lives on the other side of the country or this is the first year without your children, or loved one. And being alone doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to celebrate. What can you do to celebrate the holidays even if your own your own this year? Can you find something special for yourself, what traditions are important to you? Even if you are not celebrating eth holidays with your family, treat yourself to your favorite holiday meal and buy yourself a present.

If you are depressed it’s important to acknowledge how you really do feel. Do as much as you can manage without exhausting yourself or pretending to be happy. If you’re up to going out for a bit do go but do feel it’s OK to leave if the event becomes overwhelming for you. Do let your family know it’s OK for them to celebrate the holidays even if you can’t muster up the holiday cheer. Being sad and depressed is are real emotions and it’s OK to fell sad and blue. Do make sure you are seeing a therapist or your family doctor if you are sad for more than a few weeks.

Quick Holiday Tips to Reduce Anxiety and Stress

1)  Do keep your usually routines as much as possible. This includes getting you and your kids to bed on time.

2)  Exercise – get to the gym, do yoga or get outdoors. Being outdoors is refreshing and getting any sun can help your mood.

3)  Say NO– when you say no you can say yes to something else like a nap, time for yourself, to read or watch a movie, a massage or quiet meaningful time with your family.

4)  Stick to a budget for gifts, alcohol, and food. Create a budget before you go to the stores. You will feel less stressed if you don’t over spend.

5)  Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to your expectations. Set aside grievances, as the holiday dinner table is not the place to resolve personal issues.

6)  Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.

7)  Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to maintain your your daily routine. If these feelings last for a few weeks, talk to your doctor or a therapist.