Managing Holiday Stresses
Donald A. Price, Ph.D. and Linda M. Price, Ph.D.
In our society we define the holidays as the time of year when everyone should be happy, busy, energetic, spending money for those they love, and sharing wonderful feelings. It's the time for family togetherness and for friends to share in the spirit of the season. Businesses have the highest volume of sales of the year during this season, and our religious and cultural traditions tell us that this is the season for love, and togetherness. From all around the message comes to us loud and clear: Be Happy! However, there are several issues that can affect peoples' feelings and enjoyment of the holiday season.
1) Pressures of competition and the need to have it the biggest and the best. Pressures come in many forms: to have the best/most decorated house on the block, to attend a large number of parties (friends, office, business associates, family), to spend a lot (more than you have or want to spend), to spend the time with birth families when you would rather start forming new traditions for your nuclear family. The time and energy demands of this season can be a real physical burden. Take time to reevaluate and set priorities for yourself and your family. Pace yourself and be selective about how your use your time and energy. It's OK to say no to an invitation.
2) Feelings from the past (a miserable time during the holidays as a child due to family dysfunction or deprivation or a recent loss). Feelings of sadness are indicators of unfinished business of the past, and cannot simply be pushed aside. These feelings are often signals that we need to do or finish some grief work. The season can be especially painful if you are experiencing family conflict or distance when everyone else seems to be happy and excited. The blues during the holidays can serve as a warning that things may not always be right in our lives and that we need to examine the way we live. They may be a signal to be kind and good to ourselves at a conscious level (as opposed to unconscious compulsive overspending on ourselves), to take control over the important personal issues which deserve our real attention. Don't try to prove your love through presents. Spend less money and give more hugs. Your family and friends will feel the gift of warmth and touch and sincerity. Other suggestions are: Be realistic with your expectations; seek out support from friends, community, therapy or religious organizations if you feel isolated and lonely; find a calendar and make a schedule; and finally, stay healthy by getting enough sleep and exercise, and use moderation in food and drink.
3) Seasonal Affective Disorder (depression that is caused by the darkness and the short days of this time of year). This may have nothing to do with the holidays at all, but is a change in the body due to the decrease in sunlight; however treatment is available. It helps, in addition to therapy, to remember to keep more light on in your home and workplace, and to replace standard light bulbs with full spectrum bulbs that are available at lighting or hardware stores.