3 Common Holiday Stressors—and How to Cope
By Tris Thorp
Holidays are a time for coming together with loved ones to celebrate seasonal festivities. And yet, the holidays can be one of the most stressful times of year for many people. Pressure to spend money, time, and energy on things that society deems important can leave you feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and fearful of what may happen if you don’t keep up with the Joneses.
Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” sang Andy Williams originally in 1963. As children, it’s likely that the holidays were a time of excitement, anticipation, wonder, and cookies! Things were so much simpler when you didn’t have to work long hours and worry about being spread thin from the cost of gifts, décor, and travel. You were free from planning the guest list and the menus, and you didn’t have to fret about challenging family dynamics.
Stressors Increase During the Holidays
As adults—both young and seasoned—you’re now aware of all that goes into holiday expectations and the guilt associated with not following through with what society has deemed appropriate. As if life hasn’t become busy enough, you’re now faced with how we’re going to manage everything from our finances to finding extra time to plan, shop and entertain, and the ensuing exhaustion. For some, the holidays may bring up emotions of sadness or loneliness from the loss of a loved one or not having that special someone to share them with. Regardless of your individual stressors there is a percentage of people who would rather pull the covers over their head for two months and sleep through all of the end-of-year celebrations.
“What society has deemed appropriate”. Key words for me and from which I try to stay away. Lived there most of my life, trying to be what society deemed appropriate. I lived in fear that I wasn’t performing well enough. My expectations were so high and I could never achieve what I thought was good enough.
I turned to substances when stressed by not living up to expectations of society (really my expectations). I was so worried about impressing you and not feeling good about myself that I was an absolute mess.
After many decades of living this way I hit my bottom. I found myself in a treatment center for alcoholism and that’s where I slowly began to understand and eventually love myself. It’s been a long yet rewarding journey to not turn to substances and away from life. Today I get to go to bed being thankful for being the best I can be, for doing the best I could, for being me, and loving me. And if that’s not good enough for Society, that’s okay; it’s good enough for me and my Higher Power of My Own Understanding. Period.
According to a 2015 survey conducted by Healthline, a consumer health information site, 62 percent of respondents described their stress level as “very or somewhat” elevated during the holidays, while only 10 percent reported no stress during the season. Three of the biggest holiday stressors are finances, time, and energy. Let’s explore how the effects of stress in these three areas can show up.
Stressor: Money and Finances
It should come as no surprise that money tops the list of holiday stressors. According to a 2012 Holiday Stress Report from the American Psychological Association, stress has a major impact on lower middle class citizens who feel “the weight of stress from work plus the seasonal rush to find time to get everything done. In addition, their worries about money are heightened by the commercialism of the season and the pressure to spend a lot of money.” Commercialism plays a huge role in holiday stress with in-your-face pressure to spend, spend, spend!
A big change I’ve made is no holiday gift-giving. My husband is anti-“Hallmark” holidays and the commercialism that comes from them. I now agree and do my gift-giving when I find something that touches my heart for that special someone all throughout the year. So that special someone receives a gift “just because I’m thinking of you and love you” that is not crunched underneath a stack of boxes under the Christmas tree or on the birthday table. A gift that is special and alone and can be appreciated all by itself on a “nothing” day. And no standing in long lines at the post office or fighting the crowds in department stores. This has worked beautifully for me.
The holidays can increase your stress when it comes to your time and how it’s spent. Some people get generous holiday leave from their careers while others find themselves working up to the last minute and having to return again the day after.
Another big consideration is managing the expectations of others when it comes to how you choose to spend your time. Or the expectations may be self-imposed: “I should go see my family but I’d rather sit on my couch and watch all seven seasons of Game of Thrones than travel 2,500 miles.” Or, “I’m supposed to go to the company holiday party but I have no time to shop for a new dress and shoes.”
Go with what feels right in your heart, not your head. My head rationalizes me into self-destruction. I cannot afford to go there. I have a God Box in which to put my problems, get a good night’s sleep, and get the answer I need when “I’m ready to hear it”. We all have clouds in the sky. Embrace your problems and dilemmas, being thankful for them, and then let them go into the clouds, being swooshed far, far away. The answers will come if you have a Power Greater Than Yourself to run the show. That Power is NOT you! Have faith!
Stressor: Energy—Mental, Emotional, Physical
Another major player in holiday stress is the mental, emotional, and physical toll it takes on you. The misconception is that you can become drained of your energy. It’s impossible to be depleted of energy. Energy is something you have an endless supply of because it’s what you are made up of, at least from a quantum-physics perspective.
However, you can be mentally scattered and defocused. You can feel emotionally overwhelmed and experience physical exhaustion. Where you are putting your attention is where your energy will flow. If you’re not monitoring where you’re directing your energy, it is possible for you to feel the effects of being pushed and pulled in several directions, giving you the impression that you’re drained of energy.
It’s so hard for this alcoholic in recovery to find that happy medium, that balance, that “everything in moderation”. And I pay for it. Daily. Everything is so “common sense”, right in my face, yet I am an all-or-nothing personality. I work hard to find that happy medium regarding my mental, emotional and physical well-being. I’m a work in progress. The seeds have been planted. It’s up to me to nurture those seeds…and my well-being.
How to Cope: Find Your Place of Harmony
The biggest favor you can do for yourself and everyone around you is to find your place of harmony in the midst of all that is spiraling around you. Stress can be described as how you respond to life’s obstacles and challenges. Much of the stress you encounter during the holidays (or any other time of year) can be managed effectively by bringing your awareness to your:
1.Perception and interpretation of what’s happening
2.Highest possible intention or outcome
3.Decision about how you are going to proceed
Again, the God Box, the faith, the knowing I am not in the driver’s seat, but along for the ride to learn and grow how God sees fit knowing what I can and cannot handle. No reacting. Just accepting that everything is perfect at this very moment in front of my face. I’m right where I need to be.
How to Cope: How Are You Perceiving and Interpreting What’s Happening?
Everything you experience is run through your internal filtering system which is where you evaluate or analyze what happened and you try to make sense of it. Your rational mind is always trying to understand, distinguish, and categorize what you experience as good or bad, right or wrong, scary or safe.
With increased awareness, you can consciously begin to shift the way you are choosing to perceive and interpret your experiences. This puts you in a position to see what’s happening through a different lens and let go of your mental and emotional conviction of what you believe is the reality of the situation. For example, “I’m not in a financial position to afford gifts for my family and friends” could be your reality. Looking at from another perspective, however, you may not have extra money this year for gifts but you can still give people the gift of your attention, love, appreciation, and affection.
And what better gift is there than mindfulness, being in the moment, giving the gift of respect and attention and true caring that each and every one of us deserves? Eye contact. Full attention. A genuine hug of compassion. Didn’t cost a penny. And this is a gift I try to give everyone who enters my “Dee bubble” on a daily basis. Again, this takes work and mindfulness, but is so worth the effort!
How to Cope: What Is Your Highest Intention in This Situation?
As you find yourself getting caught up in the melodrama of emotions, the frenzy of “will I get everything done in time?” and the stress of feeling spun out, stop and ask yourself “What is my ultimate highest intention in this situation?” What is it that you want and need to do with your time? Is your intention to have a calm, relaxing, and enjoyable evening with friends? Do you want to move through the situation with effortless ease and grace, while deciding how you will choose to spend your time?
Just do your best and feel good and love yourself for that. No expectations; no disappointments. Easy. It’s not all going to get done the way you “expect” but it will all get done the way it is supposed to.
How to Cope: How Do You Want to Proceed?
What do you really want? How would you love for things to turn out? Now it’s time to decide what action you need to take. This can be difficult for some people because it may involve enforcing boundaries with others.
Boundaries are healthy, especially in this day and age in a society of go-getters. Again, listen to your heart. Know that YOU come first. Try to get balanced and realize you are NOT in control. Everything happens for a reason. Everything will turn out perfectly. YOU are perfect! So don’t try to take it all on upon your shoulders. That’s your head talking. Breathe and do your best. Say “no” when that feeling gnaws in your gut and be rigorously honest. Much appreciation and respect will follow.
At the end of the day, keep your awareness on your perspective. Stress will always be a part of life, and at the same time, there is always something to be grateful for—whether it be the tray of fudge your mom left in the fridge or the quality time off with close friends and loved ones. If you can find and focus on something you appreciate about the holiday season, you’ll be well on your way to managing the stress of the holidays.
Mele Kalikimaka! Wishing you a calm and stress-free holiday. You can do it!
For those interested in Art with a Message of balance and calmness, please visit my website at www.DeesignsByHarris.com. Mahalo and have a great day!
From the Chopra Center