How To Deal With Stress During the Holiday Season
“Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.:
Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations….whew, that’s a mouthful!
Stress is defined by the medical community as an organism’s total response to its environment. Some people handle stress quite well; others have not found the coping skills to do so. In some cases, stress is increased because of medical conditions. There are also studies to show that certain types of personalities do not do as well with stress, most notably Type A personalities.
Whatever the factors, and whatever the causes may be, stress is real and at times it can be debilitating for the individual.
In a recent study, the number one cause of stress was determined to be the loss of a loved one. Number six on that list was the holidays, with Christmas leading the way.
Why is that? What is there about the holidays that brings about so much stress in people?
A Look at a Few of the Reasons
So much to do; got to go, got to hurry, got to finish this up, and that up, and then start in on that over there, and how am I ever going to get all of this done before Christmas? Shopping for presents, wrapping the presents, putting up decorations, baking cookies and candies, shopping for family dinners, and on and on we go, and it seems to be endless from early November straight through to Christmas.
Or how about this one? We don’t have enough money to buy the kids some presents? What are we going to do? Should we take out a loan? Should we run up credit card debt? Should we borrow from our relatives? And do they expect us to buy gifts for them as well? How are we going to find the money for all of this?
And then there is this one! Oh no, we have to spend the holidays with your mother-and father, and you know they hate me, and the kids can’t stand Uncle Bert, and why should we spend the holiest of days listening to those cousins cuss, and no matter what I do I can’t get my mother to love me, and now I have to spend an entire weekend with her.
Or the flip side….I have nobody to spend the holidays with! Every year at this time I have to listen to all the family affairs that are going on, and I see all these happy faces, and I just want to scream because dammit, I’m not happy and I can’t stand this time of year.
Then we have those who are now divorced, and have all the former memories of happy family functions, and now all they have left is the memory, and quite frankly that memory leaves them sad and frantically looking for some substitute to fill the void. Of course, we have kids of divorced parents who have to divide their loyalty among two separate parents, and give love to both of them, and keep the peace between the parents, and think about years gone by when it was one big happy family rather than two miserable entities.
Oh yes, there is stress during the holidays!
So What to Do About It?
Yes, there are those who have medical conditions that tend to increase stress, or who are more prone towards stress. If that is the case, I leave you to the medical expertise of your physician.
For the rest of us, however, we need to refer to the quote at the beginning of this article, because the answer truly does lie there. Stress really does have to do with control issues and expectations.
No living creature wants to feel as though they have lost control, but quite often during the holidays, it seems as though we have done exactly that. The more control we gain, the less stress we will feel, and I believe the loss of control has everything to do with the level and reality of our expectations.
If we do not have enough money to buy expensive presents for Christmas, we feel stress, and yet the stress is directly related to unrealistic expectations regarding gift-giving. Some of the best gifts I have been given over the years were gifts that cost nothing. For my birthday one year, my wife gave me a framed collage of thank you notes written by my students when I retired from teaching. I was in tears when I received it, and not a day goes by that I do not look at it and smile.
We are low on funds yet again this year, but we feel no stress. We have told our family members that money is short and not to expect much. Read that again….we told them not to expect much. We took care of their expectations, we reined in our expectations, and there is no stress.
Do you feel stress over the holidays?
Are you dreading having to face some relatives you would rather not face? Well, your expectations are that you will have a miserable time, but it does not have to be that way now does it? You have not lost control over the situation; you have just chosen to give up control.
The first suggestion I would have is to not spend time with those relatives if they cause you unhappiness. I am quite certain most people would say that’s impossible to do, that you can’t just ignore family, but I would say to you of course you can. If family makes you unhappy and adds stress to your life, then why visit them?
On the other hand, you can do your very best to avoid that family when you are in their company, or you can adjust your expectations in that you expect them to be a pain in the butt and they will not disappoint you. If you have realistic expectations, even if they are negative, then you are in complete control of the situation. Deal with it and move on!
What about those broken families? Well, start new traditions! Yes there is sadness in remembering the old days, but you can replace that sadness by beginning new, happier memories.
What, you say you have nobody to spend the holidays with? Well then get out of the house and volunteer to help others. The absolute worst thing you can do is sit at home feeling sorry for yourself, all stressed out over your deplorable loneliness. The fastest way to eliminate feeling sorry for yourself is to help others who are less fortunate than you are.
A Dose of Reality
We are not helpless! We are not at the complete mercy of negative factors in life. There will always be circumstances that are out of our control; we are, after all, human beings and in no way are we all-powerful or in charge of life. Knowing, however, that we cannot control everything, is a huge step towards reducing stress. The economy sucks, you have no job, you have no money, and you have no way to buy presents for loved ones. Then, in that case, there is no stress, because you recognize that you have no control over the economy. You are realistic about the situation and you move on with your life.
Whatever it is that is causing you stress over the holidays, it is necessary to recognize it for what it is; once you have done that you have taken a huge step towards establishing realistic expectations.
One final note….I know, eventually, that I will die, but I guarantee I won’t die from stress-related issues. I am thankful for the things I have rather than bemoaning the things I don’t have. I find happiness in life rather than looking for unhappiness. I am surrounded by love, and I give it return with no expectations. In other words, I have found that quiet place inside of myself where I am at peace, not just during the holidays, but all days. I wish that for all of you!
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)