If you’ve ever watched the classic holiday movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, you may recall the scene in which Clark Griswold’s wife Ellen asks him not to make such a big deal out of Christmas.
“You set standards that no family activity can live up to,” Ellen says. “When have I ever done that?” Clark asks. “Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, holidays, vacations, graduations…,” she responds, the list going on and on.
For all of its wonder and magic, the holiday season is often a stressful time for many adults. Whether you’ve recently lost a loved one and dread facing what should be a happy time without them, your bank account is stretched thin during times that don’t include gift giving, or you simply don’t look forward to spending time with certain family members, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and every celebration in between, can set off anxiety. Even those among us who look forward to the holiday season all year can, like our friend Clark Griswold, feel let down by unrealistic expectations and the fatigue that comes with fulfilling so many obligations.
During a 2006 study of stress experienced during the holidays, 61 percent of adults said they often experience stress during the holiday season, with a lack of time and money running neck and neck for what causes the most stress. Mental Health issues like Seasonal Affective Disorder and Social Anxiety can increase these feelings.
While it may not be possible to avoid all holiday stress, here are some ideas for helping you cope with it:
- Make realistic expectations for a gift-giving budget. Set a goal and stick to it. As the saying goes, you don’t have to go into debt to show someone you love them.
- Remind yourself that it’s ok to say no to events that make you feel uncomfortable or overscheduled.
- Avoid overeating and overdrinking. This can be hard when it seems like every gathering involves food and drink, but the effects of alcohol and too much food can make you feel worse.
- Try not to compare this holiday with those from the past. Doing things slightly differently from how you have in past years might help you see the season in a new light.
- Let others help. If a family member or friend offers to help with a meal or other preparations, delegate a task to them. You’ll feel relieved and they’ll feel valued.
- If you feel lonely, try spending some time volunteering, such as at a homeless shelter or church that offers a free meal program.
- Think ahead: if a specific situation makes you anxious, such as flying to see family, mentally walk yourself through each step of the event. See yourself parking the car, walking through security, finding your seat on the plane, and so on. The more you visualize yourself in that situation, the easier it will become when you’re in the moment.
- Don’t forget to allow yourself to enjoy the season. Taking even 20 minutes out of the day for simple pleasures like savoring a cup of coffee in front of the Christmas tree or taking a hot soak in the tub before bed can go a long way to help calm any lingering anxiety.