But there are several simple things you can do to make the holiday season more relaxing, meaningful, and stress-free for you and your family. Here are some tips for coping with holiday stresses:
Some people like the holidays because they enjoy being with family and friends. Others enjoy entertaining, gift-giving, or singing holiday music. Still others cherish celebrating the religious significance of the holidays. Spend some time before you begin making your holiday preparations thinking about what make the holidays special for you. This will make it easier for you prioritize what is really important, and will prevent you from getting distracted by relatively unimportant details.
Tip #2: Be wary of becoming a "holiday perfectionist."
Too often we idealize the holidays. Too many people think that this time of year will suddenly be calm and peaceful and all the daily ups and downs will simply disappear. But because we are only human, holidays often turn out to be days like any other - marked by family disagreements, mishaps, and unfulfilled expectations. We can then become angry, disillusioned, and feel extremely "let down" when our expectations don't become reality. One way to deal with letdown is to realize that this time of year is in some ways like any other, and there will still be hassles and ups and downs. The key is not to be surprised when they occur and not to take a black and white view of the situation. In other words, things do not have to be perfect for the holidays to be enjoyable.
Tip #3: Humor as a coping tool
When tensions rise, try to look for the humor in a situation. If things do not go according to plan, try to shift points of view and put the unpleasant event into a broader perspective. Tell yourself that this is going to be a funny story someday, even if it is not funny now. A well-timed joke can go a long way to ease tensions between people. Do not be afraid to laugh at yourself, but watch out for sarcastic humor. Too many people use sarcasm as a form of humor, when in fact it is more an expression of anger. It may seem funny to be sarcastic towards a family member, but in the long run, it can damage the relationship.
Tip #4: Maintain your normal routine as much as possible.
Sometimes the holidays are stressful simply because they require that we break out of our normal routine. Your eating patterns may be disrupted when you attend holiday meals and parties. If your holiday plans require travel, being away from home can wreck havoc with your customary way of doing things. Sometimes being a guest in someone else's home can be the most stressful thing of all! Make an effort to keep to your normal schedule as much as you can. If you have regular exercise, sleeping, or eating patterns, try to stick to these as much as possible to avoid disrupting your body's natural rhythms.
Tip #5: Give yourself the gift of self-care.
The holiday season often is extremely draining, because all of those extra activities require additional time and energy. It is important for you to take good care of yourself during the holiday season. Consider this the most valuable gift you can give yourself! Taking care of yourself and attending to your needs is not selfish. Pausing for a nap sure beats collapsing from exhaustion. Self-care can be in various forms - eat well, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and take “time out” to enjoy things that you love (a special hobby, reading a good book, going for a walk, to listening to music, taking a warm bath. etc.). Understand the value of self-care in getting you through the holidays and be sure to make time for this, put them into your appointment book if necessary. Remember self-care is not the same as selfishness!
Tip #6: Develop family rituals.
Rituals can be fun - and meaningful - ways to celebrate the holiday season. Traditions passed down through the generations can become cherished memories. But the key is to keep rituals simple, they do not have to be elaborate to be meaningful. Think about your holiday traditions and try to separate those you truly enjoy from those you feel you “have” to do because you've always done so or you are expected by others to do so. Consider doing something different to celebrate this year. Try to make your expectations of the holidays as realistic as possible.
Tip #7: Practice good communication with your family and friends.
Holiday stress can also be caused when misunderstandings or disagreements occur between family members or friends. It can be tempting to avoid creating more conflict, so we often tend to ignore the problem and hope it goes away. However, a better solution is to address your concerns directly with your family or friends in a gentle, but honest, manner. Encourage them to be open with you as well. Work together to find a solution that is satisfactory to everyone.
Tip #8: Have a system for dealing with family situations
If family get-togethers tend to be a time when people end up discussing sensitive issues such as elder care, set down some ground rules. Meal times are not for discussing family business. They are times for coming together and strengthening ties. If holidays are the only time people are together, and they feel they must discuss important matters, then reserve a time and place to do so, separate from the celebrations. The idea is to preserve and protect family time and not let it suffer from “spillover” that results from discussing sensitive topics. Remember that togetherness does not mean 24 hours a day. Too many people try to make up in a few days what they miss during the year. It is simply not possible to do that. Aim for "quality time" and not quantity time.
These suggestions are meant to help make your experience of the holidays more enjoyable, both for yourself and for your family. However, some people find the holidays to be very emotionally distressing for a variety of reasons - they are faced with family conflicts, are grieving the loss of a loved one, or suffer from symptoms of anxiety or depression. If you recognize that you need more assistance dealing with the holiday season, please make an appointment with our therapist.