Oh The Holidays

This phrase can mean such different things to different people! To many of us, it’s a cry of excitement, because we love the holiday season and can’t wait for it to get here. For many of us, it’s a cry of dismay, because the holiday season brings with it lots of extra stress, sadness, and/or other versions of distress. And for many, it’s a combination of the two – a sort of love-hate relationship with the holiday season. Regardless of which of these groups we may be in, I think it’s fair to say that the holiday season brings with it an extra dose of stress for most of us, in one way or another.

Trying to identify the sources of this extra stress is a good place to start, in trying to better manage it. This takes a little effort, but it is well worth the investment. The list below may be helpful in identifying ways to reduce your holiday stress.

  • Plan ahead, and schedule carefully. Waiting until the last minute to shop for gifts, to shop for groceries for the big meal, to prepare the big meal, to find something to wear to the party, or to get out those party invitations can generate a great deal of unnecessary stress. Plan ahead, write down your plan, and try to stick to it.
  • Examine your expectations for the holidays – are they realistic? We don’t necessarily have to give up any of the things that we enjoy about the holidays, but we should consider whether our expectations are realistic. Having an enjoyable dinner party is very different from having “the perfect” dinner party. Keep in mind that you should be able to enjoy the festivities, too.
  • Simplify. Maybe you don’t really have to go to all 28 of the holiday parties that you were invited to. Or maybe you don’t really need to have a five-course meal for 50, when your family comes over. These are exaggerations, of course (or at least I hope so), but you get the idea.
  • Whether it’s related to gifts, food, gatherings, decorating, etc., strive for enjoyment…not perfection.
  • Think about what you can and cannot control. This is always big, when it comes to stress. It’s only natural to want to make sure that everything goes smoothly, but there are some things that we simply cannot control. Be flexible.
  • Don’t overschedule yourself.
  • Allow time for yourself. For many of us, no matter how much we enjoy being with friends and family, it’s important to build alone-time into our holiday schedules.
  • Get some rest.
  • Avoid eating too much. (I know…this is really hard to do.)
  • Forgive yourself.
  • Avoid drinking too much.
  • Take time to be thankful.
  • Avoid spending too much. A great dinner party or gift isn’t really so great if it causes you financial stress for months to come. Make a budget and try to stick to it.
  • Allow others to help.
  • If planning a party, ask your guests to let you know about any food allergies when they RSVP. Conversely, if you’re attending a party and have food allergies, let the host know beforehand. An unexpected trip to the hospital can ruin even the best party.
  • Be mindful of your own emotions. Acknowledge your feelings, and reach out to others for support if it’s needed. If you’re in a situation where you don’t have family or friends that are readily accessible, try visiting a place of worship, of your choosing, or volunteering at a charitable program. Both are great ways to meet new people and expand your support system.
  • Accept the need to sometimes say no. People who care about us will understand if we can’t take part in everything that’s going on, especially during this hectic time of year. Know your limits.
  • Forgive others.
  • Be mindful of the dynamics of your relationships, and plan accordingly. For example, don’t plan to stay at a party for five hours if half of the people invited to that party are people that drive you crazy. Or don’t invite both of your once-married friends to the same party if they get into a fight every time they’re together.
  • Be mindful of “loaded” conversation topics, and if you feel the need to go there at all, keep it to a minimum. The holiday party isn’t the time or place to solve the world’s political problems.
  • Be mindful of your party host’s expectations related to things like smoking, consuming alcohol, etc. Some people simply don’t want certain things going on in their homes, and that should be respected.
  • Enjoy yourself.
  • Be alert for signs of the holiday blues, depression, or seasonal affective disorder. If you’ve experienced these before, or if you’ve had recent significant losses in your life, learn about the signs and symptoms of these conditions and seek professional help if needed.

If you’re experiencing difficulty in managing your stress during this holiday season, or with other issues that you would like to discuss, remember that the Employee Assistance Program is here for you. Contact me by phone or email to set up an appointment.

Happy Thanksgiving! Happy Holidays!

Terry Sterry