When you think of the holidays, what comes to mind? If you are like most people, on the top of your list are family gatherings, time spent with close friends, lots of good food and drink, gift giving, a time of cheer and joy…and stress.
In our current precarious economic climate, with high unemployment, corporate downsizing, the collapse of the housing market, the conditions of the holiday season are shaping up to be stressful indeed. Despite these times of economic uncertainty, holiday gift giving is at the forefront of people’s minds, creating a large amount of stress. In one psychological survey, 50-70 percent of people rated money and gift giving pressure high on their holiday stress list. Too many of us end the holiday season with charge cards run up along with our debt from giving gifts we can’t really afford, while we carry around extra pounds we have accumulated by excessive holiday eating. For all the hype going into the holiday season, many of us are left with a post-holiday ‘let down’.
With all these factors, even the most close-knit families are taxed, and pressure on marriages and family relationships are heightened. To add insult to injury, any hidden fault lines in family dynamics become more prominent themes during the holidays, as this stereotypic and ideal time of closeness clashes with the reality of family bickering, resentments, estrangement and loss.
The following are tips on how fill your holidays with the positive stress of anticipation, excitement and wonder, while at the same time limiting the negative stress so often associated with the pressures of our challenging times.
1. Everything in Moderation – The holidays are times of excess in many arenas. Eat and drink moderately, don’t overspend what you do not have, avoid racking up credit card debt that will take months to pay off, and do not forgo the routines that keep you sane and ‘in balance’ the rest of the year.
2. The Best Things in Life are Free – Remind yourself of this saying often throughout the holidays. It is very easy to get sucked into the mentality that bigger and more expensive is better. Focus on times with family and friends that are built around togetherness, games and fun, all which do not require spending money you might not have. Give with your heart and friendship rather than focusing on giving material possessions. Memories can not be bought, and neither can relationships. With companies cutting back, maybe your gift budget should likewise be trimmed.
3. Put Self-Care High on your Holiday Wish List – The holidays are a time when self care is the most important – Too often unwanted pounds accumulate with all the vast array of holiday foods around during the holiday season. Make sure you exercise regularly and plan time to keep yourself moving. You will also tend to eat less if you are working hard to keep yourself fit. One study has shown that almost 50 per cent of women report that they are moderately or significantly worried about their weight during the holiday season.
4. Your Family will not Likely Win the Norman Rockwell Award – Be realistic about your imperfect family relationships. Chances are, if there are rifts or longstanding issues in your family, they will not be magically solved this holiday season. Accepting the imperfections of those close to you and enjoying these imperfect relationships will help you limit undue stress during the family get-togethers. Cutting out the magical thinking makes for a much lower stress holiday.
5. Enjoy a “Good-Enough” Holiday – Spare yourself the need for things to go perfectly this holiday season. Take the pressure off of yourself! Beware of your unrealistic expectations. Strive for just a “good enough” holiday and you might be surprised at how much more enjoyable they can be without the guilt-provoking strings attached!
6. Don’t Force the Fun – With the hype of the holiday season, people feel a need to be jovial and happy, and are ashamed if they feel “down” or blue. The expectation of being in the “holiday spirit” can lead even the most well-adjusted people to feel inadequate and even freakish if the “holiday blues” sit squarely on their shoulders. Just knowing that emotional lows as well as highs are normal can offer solace to many. This is especially true for those who have experienced loss of loved ones through estrangement, death and divorce. The holidays hit us hard when we are dealing with loss.
7. Make New Traditions – In these changing times, re-evaluate your traditions. Keep the ones that work, and work with friends and family to create new ways of celebrating that bring freshness and change to your relationships and traditions. Things don’t have to be the same thing year after year if these traditions no longer work. This holiday season can be a time of growth and change as well as a time for familiar, comforting family traditions.
8. Seek Support and Share your Feelings – Let this holiday be a time in which you strengthen your bonds by being open and honest about how you feel. You don’t have to be “tough.” Do not feel like you need to be “tough.” Ask for help if you feel like you want or need it. People who can show their vulnerabilities and have a strong sense of community and support are better equipped to handle life’s stresses. Numerous studies have correlated happiness with strong supportive social networks.
9. Manage Stress – Don’t Carry it! – Realize that stress can be positive – stress is not always bad. It can heighten your sense of involvement, bring excitement to your world, but all too often people view stress as unwelcome and negative. Stress Managers contain their stress, while Stress Carriers cope with their stress by giving it to everyone else!
10. Stress Comes from Within – not Without – Remember that stress does not come from the outside. The holidays do not make us stressed in themselves – rather it is our take on outside events and how we view what happens on the outside that causes us to be stressed. If our Norman Rockwell-like holiday fantasies and ideals clash with the reality of our own less than perfect lives, we experience a disconnect of what we think “should be.” Making peace with “what is” rather than what “should be” will help us thrive and not just survive this holiday season!
Judy Belmont, M.S., L.P.C is a Psychotherapist and Wellness Speaker and Author, and is a member of the National Speakers Association. She has presented before thousands of people in her 35 year career on various mental health and wellness issues. Her interactive keynotes, seminars and radio and TV appearances, she provides “hands on” ideas and life skills that improve resiliency and life satisfaction. She has published two books for mental health professionals and trainers, as well as a practical wellness manual that has been used for corporate wellness training. She is a co-author of an upcoming book, The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life: How to Get Through Life’s Holes Without Getting Stuck in will be released later in 2011, and will be followed by The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life Workbook. Her web sites are