Navigating Holiday Stress
by Lacey Marks, LCSW
The holidays can be stressful, ask around. Between the finances, family tension, and unrealistic expectations, the holidays can become a time of stress rather than joy.
How do we get back to the real purpose behind your holiday season? How do we change this perception?
Reduce Guilt and Resentment
Setting clear boundaries and using concise communication is the key to many situations. The holidays are no different. Instead of generally asking how you can help and getting roped into hosting Thanksgiving, offer what you’re comfortable with taking on. “I can bring a pie or a side dish, which would help?” This question creates more control of the response rather than leaving your vague offer open to interpretation. It, in turn, ensures a management of your mood through clearer boundaries.
Boundaries also can be an act of self-preservation. If we continue to dread our drive to a relative’s house two hours away and would love nothing more than to stay close to home; then you are allowed to do that. Plan for a more personal interaction with your relative in the coming weeks. One on one time may be more appealing to both of you. Be sure to express your needs rather than asking for permission. “I need a simple holiday this year Grandma, so I am going to stay home”. This is more effective than setting the stage for a guilt trip or your own resentment. Ensure that you are listening to your needs and setting your boundaries accordingly.
Budget Your Money and Your Emotions
One of the biggest holiday stress concerns is the financial strain that it can quickly place on you. Let me rephrase that. “One of the biggest stressors around the holidays is choosing to put yourself in a financial strain”. See the difference? You can choose to obligate yourself financially. You can choose to accrue bills that will lead to struggle for months on end. Or, you can choose to control the situation.
As an adult, the clothes, toys and games don’t stand out as much as the time spent or relationships built during childhood. Make a budget for your holiday spending, being sure to follow this closely. If you finish the holiday shopping, think “I haven’t done enough”, and begin to feel guilty, consider your emotional budget. Are you equating money/gifts to love? Instead, strategize ways you can invest in your love ones, like spend more quality time with them, rather than adding more gifts received.
Ground Your Grief and Loss Stress
Two shared factors each and every human is guaranteed to experience are grief and loss. It is one of the most difficult factors of life, and even harder to communicate about. The loss of a job, the dissolvement of a marriage, or even the physical loss of a loved one; all affect our daily functioning and are typically compounded around the holidays.
The cycle of grief is very fluid, and that is especially true around the holidays. Perhaps you were coping with and feeling more accepting of the loss; but the reminder to downsize your holidays due to job loss or divorce can send you backwards. Phases like bargaining, depression, anger, or denial due to grief/loss restart without your permission. Perhaps you had been thriving, even without your loved one; but the idea of an empty seat at the dinner table drudges up a feeling of overwhelming sadness and grief.
Continue to ground yourself in the moment. Being mindful of your emotions, being compassionate to yourself, and taking time and space to honor those feelings. The holiday party can wait, the wrapping can happen tomorrow, but your emotions need your immediate and undivided attention. You deserve to do that for yourself.
With loss, take time to honor the loved one and your relationship with them. Whether through action or thought, this does not need to be a grand display. Simply recalling your favorite memories, talking to someone else about their impact in your live, or sharing your tears is often helpful. Taking time to cry or sit with deep breaths to re-center yourself cannot be emphasized enough. These are biologically driven and emotionally necessary.
Putting Thought to Action
If you feel that you have lost the excitement of the holidays or the purpose behind your cultural or religious celebrations, something is awry. Take some time now to reflect, problem solve, and begin to set the foundation for a more enjoyable holiday season. Whether through writing down your thoughts, talking it over with a spouse or family member, or simply placing attention and focus on your feelings concerning the holiday season; make a concerted effort. When you start to think about change, action often follows and this will lead to more control and more enjoyment to be had.
Are the holidays more stressful than you anticipated? Contact New Directions Counseling to have a counselor walk side by side for support. Call now 724.934.3905