Managing Holiday Stress
If your idea of holiday stress is untangling Christmas tree lights, you've been very lucky. While many folks look forward to the holidays with joyful anticipation, others dread the idea of making it through the time from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day.
Holidays can certainly vary in quality and happiness from year to year but still be tolerable. Maybe it's the shopping budget that's tight this year, or a key member of the family has to be out of town. These things can impact a holiday but not really ruin it. Changes in your family composition through death, divorce, marriage, a job loss or moving can force change in celebrations, and people often grieve the loss of structure or traditions.
"Find a way to soothe yourself during these hectic times,” says Shira Greenfield, licensed professional clinical counselor with Centegra Behavioral Health Services. “The sounds of the season can be festive to some and over-stimulating to many others. Some time away from the noise of parties, shopping malls and other activities may be necessary to gain a sense of peace or balance. This may take the form of a quiet drive, a walk in nature, listening to calming music or looking through old photo albums. Even a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle can be restorative.
"That means talking to your family about what is actually doable this year. Chances are, if you have suffered a major event in the last twelve months, so have they. It may be time for a new game plan. There is no doubt that if you feel your regular daily life is stressful or unfulfilling, then the holidays will only emphasize your discontent. So what can you do when every TV show, shopping mall and hundreds of catalogs are blaring the joy of the holidays and saying you'd better be having fun?"
When feeling overwhelmed and over-obligated, it is important to take control of how you really will celebrate instead of trying to live up to others' ideas of what you should be doing. It may be the time to make new traditions and to choose one or two old favorites to continue. This could be the year to take a family trip instead.
"Limit how much decorating you do, unless that creativity makes you feel better,” Greenfield says. “Don't be up all night trimming three trees because you ‘always did that.’ When families change, old rituals and traditions may no longer fit. Consider what is truly meaningful to you and your family, and give yourself permission to celebrate in new ways."
Consider doing something new, such as volunteering. The need is always there on a county-wide basis, but more so during the holidays, when many regular volunteers leave town. "It's a good way to gain perspective on your life and realize that despite whatever concerns and frustrations you have in your life, most people would not be willing to trade their problems with anyone else,” Greenfield says. "You can deliver dinners, drive people to medical services or help out in dozens of ways. Contact your local churches or service organizations. This can be one of your most important new traditions."
Centegra Health System has support groups for those dealing with grief or coping with being a caregiver, situations that often heighten a dread of the holidays. There is a series of classes for those worried about gaining weight during the holidays. If you or a family member are depressed or anxious and need professional help, call the Behavioral Health Central Intake number. This could be the greatest gift of the holidays.
Finally, don't try to live up to artificial standards set by someone else. It does not mean you are truly celebrating if you spend more than you have or work to exhaustion to entertain others. "Set new standards that work for you,” Greenfield says. “It takes courage to change, but each year creates new opportunities for a memorable and meaningful holiday season.”
For More Information:
Centegra Behavioral Health: 800-765-9999
Caregivers or Grief Support: 815-759-4459
Managing Holiday Weight: 815-444-2900