Some Important Tips For Avoiding Holiday Stress

Holidays in general breed unrealistic expectations. The minute you start wondering, ‘Is it going to be wonderful enough?,’ it will never be.’   Pepper Schwartz

Why don’t I find the holidays to be a happy time? Other people seem to be happy. Instead I find it to be stressful and overwhelming. I do not want to feel this way nor do I want this kind of experience every time December comes around. What can I do to change this?

First, try to take some time to reflect on what makes this time of the year unpleasant for you. During the holidays, many people find themselves thinking about loved ones, friends and situations that make them sad or unhappy.

Very often, the holidays seem to trigger anxiety and sadness over unresolved grief, feelings of futility, past losses, perceived loneliness and nostalgia for the past and the way things used to be. If you feel that way, you are not alone. It can be made worse by the decorations, music, parties and greetings all around that urge you to join in the happiness and merry making activities of the season.  This can foster many conflicting emotions and even feelings of guilt. But it is okay to be honest with yourself and with others about how the holidays affect your feelings.

Resist the urge to isolate yourself – this is exactly when you need to have safe family, friends or community around you.  If you are alone, this can be a difficult but don’t let this set you back. Of primary importance, is the reminder to lovingly care for yourself in special ways. Give yourself a special gift, something you have had your eye on for a while. It doesn’t have to be expensive – it can be a book, a new coat, a spa treatment or even a new movie. Have some of your favourite foods. Play music that uplifts you. Wear your favourite outfit. It is a great idea to get out and engage in winter activities or events in the community that are fun and meaningful to you.

In addition to being good to yourself, look for ways during this time to be caring and kind towards others. There are always people and animals around you that are suffering like you. A smile, a kind remark, a helping hand or even an act of charity can make a great difference in lifting their and your spirits. At the same time, do not get yourself so busy with too many “have to do’s.”  Personalize your holidays by determining what you can do to make the holiday season a balanced and peaceful time for you.

For many people the holiday season creates a lot of stress in relation to spending time with loved ones and extended family. Holidays with blended families (or families that live apart) can be especially challenging. If this is your situation, make an extra effort to be flexible and open to doing things differently, while at the same time preserving some of the traditions that have always been important to the children and you.

It is important not to expect your relationships to be any different because it’s the holiday season. People don’t usually change their behaviour simply because it is a festive occasion. Despite loving intentions, some family members are not at their best during the holidays due to unresolved conflict or grief and unhealthy coping patterns. Regrettably this often leads to increased family violence and substance abuse-related incidents. It is best to keep it simple without too many unrealistic expectations. Do show the important people in your life just how much you care about them without expecting too much in return.

Lastly, let go of the commercialism, materialism and competitiveness that permeate the minds and hearts of many during this season. Do not create stress by taking on unnecessary emotional, physical, and/ or financial demands. It does create stress when we put unrealistic expectations upon others and ourselves by trying to force everything to be perfect. There is a unique kind of perfection and art in the very nature of what you might consider imperfect. Stop for a moment and think about this last line very carefully. Don’t forget to be kind and gentle with yourself. Honour your achievements over the past year and be thankful for all that you have received. Remember to carry a large amount of compassion in your heart for yourself, for all the people and animals that are or have been a part of your life.

May the greatest peace, compassion, love and healing fill you your heart, mind and body this season.

Clear Path Transitions Psychotherapy & Counselling Services

Hal Wilhite