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Most of my clients would say they need help with the holidays. Around October in my office, my clients come in looking distraught and distracted, and I wonder what new development has occurred in their lives. When I ask, I learn it's the holidays that is causing their worry. Year after year the same pattern emerges.
When we talk about why the holidays involve stress, it’s usually because they don’t have something they think they should have. They have memories of the holidays that are not so good, expectations of themselves that are not realistic, or fears that they won’t live up to other's expectations.
Are your holidays filled with joy?
To me a holiday should be festive, joyous and relaxing. Why does
it become such a dreaded thing?
It’s important to remember that we create our own stress. One way we do
this is behaviorally is by avoiding issues in our lives we need to deal
with. This becomes challenging when the issues we are avoiding have to
do with our family and suddenly during the holidays we are immersed in
Another way we do this is by our thinking patterns. How is it we define the holidays? What do we expect from ourselves and why? Ultimately what effect does that have on our ability to enjoy and relax during the holidays? We have to take into account that we create our own stress with our mind. It is the way you think about the holidays and behave because of those thoughts that causes your stress.
Christmas is a holiday celebrated by Christians and non Christians with gift giving, special meals, cards, decorations, visits from Santa Claus and church services. Somehow it has become a holiday based on materialism. Families spend money on gifts they can’t afford, for people they don’t like, and wind up increasing their debt and thus their stress. What should Christmas really be about?
Thanksgiving is a time to express thanks and give gratitude for all that we have. Traditionally this involves our friends and family who we love and a huge meal. People without close families and spouses often feel unhappy and lonely. Those who do have families, have a host who may prepare a huge meal that involves tremendous stress and preparation. Families worry about their homes looking beautiful enough, their children behaving, the relative that drinks, or the pressure from critical parents.
New Years is a time of celebration and looking forward. Typically we feel pressure to make resolutions which we often don’t keep setting us up for a cycle of failure and low self confidence. No wonder the holidays are so stressful!
If historically the holidays have been a bad time for you for whatever reason, break the pattern. You don’t need to continue to dread and avoid the holidays. The holidays can be such a painful time if you have had many diffiuclt ones and focusing on your own experience can be too painful. Go on a vacation, volunteer at a shelter, buy gifts for a needy family. Giving has been shown to decrease the sense of isolation people feel. This may help to lift your spirits.
Do you spend endless hours agonizing over the right gifts, preparing laborious meals, or decorating your house to perfection? Is this a joyous activity for you? If that’s your thing, and it brings you true joy than go ahead and do it. If it’s not, and you are doing it to impress think about the true meaning of the holidays.
Don’t expect things to be different from your demanding mom, critical sister, or drunk uncle. Know this is what to expect and expect it. Wanting things to be different or worrying about someone’s behavior won’t change reality. Be prepared for it, and accept it how it is,or change the way you respond to it. It really isn't your fault.
Envy and jealously crop up during the holidays frequently as well. Everyone has their difficulties and nothing is as picture perfect as it seems. My single clients wish they had a family and kids to spend time with, and my married clients with children wish they could go away on vacation and forget the holidays all together. You get to define the holidays for yourself. Don’t give away your power to have a restful and joyous time by trapping yourself in these destructive patterns.
Do you have a religion? If so look to it for some guidance during the holiday to keep your on track. After all this is where all the holidays have their roots. Your faith can help keep you focused on the true purpose of the holidays.
Spend time thinking about gratitude. Gratitude is getting in touch with what you have been given and what you have in your life. It may be friends, family, your intelligence, your dog, your garden, libraries, music. There are so many things to be grateful for. It is really a habit to cultivate and can be hard at first.
Giving should never be out of obligation. That kind of giving deprives you of the joy you should receive from it. This is why homemade gifts are so nice to get. The gifts I remember over the years are those that were unexpectedly given from the heart. It is a remarkable experience to truly give, without resentment or pressure or expectation in return.
You are responsible for the rituals you create in your life. If you have bad family memories of holidays create new ones! You can create your own holiday traditions for yourself and your family.
If you try these tips out, I am sure you will have a better holiday season!
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This page is about how self-compassion and mindfulness and skills such as forgiveness, kindness and compassion can help us with depression and anxiety.