For many Americans, this stretch of the calendar year, starting with Thanksgiving to Christmas to the New Year, can be overwhelming. Too often we take holiday stress for granted. What’s worse is that we often have higher expectations for this season than for any other time of the year.
When the realities of day-to-day life conflict with our efforts to make the holiday season seamless, stress is inevitable.
Here are the top 4 causes of holiday stress:
1. You’re overwhelmed by obligations. If you are shopping for gifts, decorating the house, cooking, cleaning, planning, organizing, meeting, chauffeuring, baking for the cookie exchange, sending out cards, wrapping presents, going to parties, hosting gatherings, traveling, boarding the animals, getting on planes, driving across the country, all the while trying to run your already chaotic life…You’re done.
2. Financial Strain. Financial difficulties are a great source of stress for many of us throughout the year. During the holiday season, many of these financial problems come to the forefront. Holidays add significant pressure to spend, and that makes us all more aware of our financial limits.
If people aren’t handling their finances well, holiday spending can cause intense arguments and create feelings of guilt and shame.
3. Family Tension. Whenever large groups of people come together, there is potential for conflict. Feeling stressed out by the people you love can feel isolating, but if you’re one of the people for whom this is the case, you are far from alone.
Sometimes these situations are small, unpleasant blips in otherwise enjoyable celebrations. Perhaps it’s a dumb comment or your just your cousin’s way of trying to be funny. But for some, the feelings go much deeper.
For many people, the holidays represent a sense of dread. This may involve becoming stressed or anxious in the weeks leading up to a family get-together. For some, getting together represents old wounds.
Baggage associated with our upbringing is normal, but that doesn’t make it any more enjoyable. Families bring special forms of baggage. Even for the closest families, conflicts happen, especially when people are confined to a limited space during family gatherings that last for days.
4. Having unrealistic expectations. So why do we get so stressed about seeing family around the holidays? Expectations are one of the biggest reasons. We anticipate a Rockwellian experience, but often, that’s simply not a reality.
We think this should be a perfect time, the food will be delectable, the house will look flawless, the gifts will be thoughtful, our conversations will be delightful, our interactions will be engaging and our behaviors will be charming. Uhh…Really?
And even if we don’t expect perfection, sometimes we just expect decent or reasonable or even human. And sadly, that just doesn’t always happen.
So when our expectations and our realities don’t match up we get frustrated, upset, saddened, angry and even resentful.
This list of four is not comprehensive. Some other factors that contribute to holiday stress and depression include:
• Facing the loss of a loved one with whom you have shared the holidays
• Being away from family and friends
• Associating the holidays with unresolved family issues or a painful childhood
• Ignoring feelings of sadness, loneliness, or depression in an effort to maintain “holiday cheer”
• Having unrealistic expectations of family and friends
• Coping with changes in family obligations, particularly after a recent marriage or divorce
• Feeling isolated from others
• Reflecting on losses or disappointments over the past year
• Drinking more alcohol and overeating which is often more readily available during the holidays
• Having an expectation that you “should” feel good
It is definitely possible to relieve stress and maintain harmony during the holidays. The first step in managing holiday stress is to ask yourself, “Are my expectations for the holidays realistic?” Make a list of what you expect from yourself and people during the holidays. With realistic expectations, your stressful holidays could transform into cherished memories.
Don’t be afraid to speak with a doctor or therapist if you’re having a difficult time. We are trained to help you improve your coping skills in order to not only help you get you through the holiday season, but possibly even enjoy them.