The Joys of the Holiday Season – Coping with Holiday Stress

As Christmas approaches, we look forward to spending time with family and loved ones, giving and receiving gifts, having some “holiday cheer” and enjoying the plentiful amount of food and beverages.  Unfortunately, not all of these activities are enjoyable for everyone, especially if you have some unhealthy family members, family conflict, misbehaving children, or that “interesting” uncle/aunt that everyone wants to avoid.  Coping with holiday stress becomes an important skill, as it may be the buffer between surviving these few months versus having to clean up the physical, social or emotional messes that follow.  The American Psychological Association did a poll in 2015 which found that eight out of every ten people anticipate stress during the holiday season.  Many of these stressors include overeating, drinking to excess, holiday crowds, dealing with family members and financial concerns.

Here are a few things you may consider to survive this adventure.

  1. Beware of overindulgence. More is not always better.  Although good food and drink may be overflowing (and that release of dopamine is very pleasurable), moderation becomes an important skill, especially if you become concerned about weight gain, alcohol consumption and stress.  This may also lead to bringing out “issues” that are buried.  Increases in alcohol and food consumption can also increase the likelihood of impulse buying as you want to get in that “extra holiday cheer” while you can.  This can set the stage for later guilt, overspending on presents and family conflict.
  2. Reevaluate your holiday traditions. Since many traditions are a family affair, make sure that you are sharing – not only the cheer – but the responsibilities.  Are you doing all of the cooking and cleaning or shopping for the family or group of families?  Ask others to chip in and be a part of the team.  You might even delegate responsibility and reinforce with your family to make sure they are following through … maybe consider rotating locations or sharing a potluck.
  3. Unrealistic expectations. You may want to recreate or avoid the past.  Holidays are not meant to be perfect.  Everyone has their own pattern styles and preferences, including religious beliefs.  Everyone needs to be able to celebrate in their own way (as long as is not being disrespectful or disruptive). The “perfect present” may be a good connection.
  4. Many people may also not have family near them. This may be a time to reach out and share our common human bond or to connect with individuals that you might not normally connect with, especially if they also do not have anyone.  Help create that support system as it may be a lifeline to some.
  5. Watch out for the extra intensity that may occur with large groups of people (and alcohol). Take care and time for yourself as it can be quite overwhelming, especially with the crowds, people in large groups in tight or small spaces.  It’s okay to get stressed about this.  Just make sure you are taking breathers or timeouts, and honestly express and acknowledge your feelings when you need that space.
  6. Finally, remind yourself of what the true meaning of the holiday spirit is. This is a time to celebrate, reconnect, focus on the positives or resolve some of those emotional issues from your past.

Dr. Cory Hrushka, C.S. D.S.T. NCPC, NCCE