“If one were to devise an experimental set of circumstances which would test the integrity of an individual’s mood control, one would invent the year-end holiday season.” Jonathan Himmelhoch (Psychiatrist, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic)
If you or someone you know are feeling down during the holiday season, there’s no need to worry. There are ways to cope with the holiday blues without resorting to unhealthy habits. This article will give you some helpful tips for getting through the holiday season and finding peace of mind.
Stress Depression and the Holiday Season
The holiday season blues are authentic, and according to at least one study, about half of us experience the holiday season blues (the survey reached 786 adults 18 years or older Fall of 2006). But some people can’t find peace of mind, so they suffer the holiday season blues because they entered the holiday season already feeling sad, depressed, anxious, etc. In addition, the seemingly joyous time of the year enhances their depression and anxiety. As a result, many people feel more sad, depressed, and anxious during this time than at any other time of the year.
What causes these feelings? Is it something in our genes that makes us susceptible to the holiday season blues? Or is it something we do, like spending too much money on gifts for family and friends? Are there ways to avoid getting into the holiday season blues?
No other times of the year evoke such strong emotions as this time of year. We may be excited, joyous, and filled with wonder and anticipation at this time of year. We visit family and friends, host parties and gatherings, and spread joy wherever we go during this holiday season. As joyous as we may be, the expectations for a “Rockwell Christmas” haunt even the best of us. Yet, despite this, some of us may feel quite the opposite during this time of the year.
Those who have recently lost a loved one, those suffering from physical or mental health concerns, those who have been separated from their family members, or even those who have become estranged from their families come to mind. But unfortunately, the holidays haven’t always been enjoyable for some people, and many feel trapped in their current lives.
Embrace Peace of Mind to Combat Holiday Season Blues
Regardless of how we feel about the holiday season, this time of the year finds many of us feeling the burden of perfection and a lack of peace. As joyous as we may be, the expectations for a “Rockwell Christmas” haunt even the best of us.
While we still have our day-to-day tasks, we must decorate, buy gifts, and attend social functions. These expectations, especially if we feel obligated, can cause stress and anxiety even in those who enjoy the holiday season. Now imagine the stress and anxiety felt by those who are merely trying to cope with life itself, let alone the added expectation of the season.
How To Help Others Find Peace Of Mind While Coping With The Holiday Season Blues
What can we do to help someone suffering from finding peace of mind during this holiday season?
· Create awareness within yourself and your children that not everyone feels joyous this time of the year. This awareness is not meant to burden us but as a recognition of the reality of others.
· Create an environment where all people feel open to honestly sharing their feelings. While attending or planning parties and gatherings, don’t encourage everyone to participate. Instead, be respectful of those who are having a difficult time participating. Try to plan activities that would allow a person to participate in the degree to which they feel comfortable.
– It is important to know that your expectations of a holiday celebration may differ from those of others. Therefore, be flexible and open to the traditions of others and their feelings during this time. For example, you should consider any family members who have been experiencing a challenging year when you plan the family dinner.
– The space and time to speak, or to refrain from speaking, is up to them. Understand that it may have taken them a great deal of effort to appear in the first place. Be aware that they may have had significant challenges.
– I urge you to be a supportive friend to anyone you know who is afflicted with mental illness or experiencing emotional distress. Be present to them, even if you cannot speak with them. Be sure to never underestimate the positive impact and healing quality of being present. Encourage them to attend small gatherings with you if possible and appropriate. Surround them with people who have their best interests in mind.
– If they do not have expectations placed upon them by themselves or others, you should encourage them to engage in activities that promote their emotional well-being and physical health. Suppose you would like them to understand that prioritizing themselves is not a sign of selfishness. In that case, it is essential for your well-being.
– Take time from the busyness of this season to be an active listener to those who wish to share their feelings. Encouraging and allowing others to share their feelings may be the most helpful thing you can do for them. If they are reluctant to share, lovingly help them by letting them know that you will listen without judgment, regardless of what they wish to talk about and share.
During this holiday season, as many of us join together with our families and friends, let’s be grateful and joyous in our traditions and fellowship. But let’s not forget those emotionally suffering during the holiday season. Being respectful, understanding, and lovingly present is the best holiday gift a person can receive.
Coping with family stress during the holidays can seem like a given. Many of us anticipate that family will get on our nerves, make us upset, or get us angry. Understanding that stress, especially during the holidays, will happen, then coping with family stress becomes more manageable and doable since we expect to feel and experience that family stress.
Coping with family stress comes with the season. Sure, family stress happens all year. Still, during the holiday season, it amps up, becoming stronger and more widespread amongst families. Family stress is defined as a disturbance in the steady-state of the family system. The disturbance can emerge from the outside, from inside the family, or both simultaneously.
Why does this happen? Why during a time of the year when we try to be cheerful and happy are families more stressed?
I feel that the answer to that question is two-fold. The holiday season itself can cause stress. Families need to make preparations for travel, the arrival of other family members, meal prep, getting gifts, decorating, and meeting the expectations of traditions. There’s a lot of responsibility placed on many people during a short couple of months. But we all know how the family will talk for years to come if just one aspect of the holidays doesn’t go as they wanted or expected. That’s a lot of pressure to place on people.
The other part of the answer to the question is that families who may spend much of the year physically separated are now coming back together. Children out on their own for the first time, feeling that sense of freedom, are now back in their parent’s house, struggling with being an adult while once again being treated like a child. Or family members who get along well through phone or video chats, find that living under the same roof, even temporarily, is a reminder of why they moved away.
Put these two reasons together, not unlike distant family members coming together, and we have the answer as to why coping with family stress is such an issue this time of the year. Tensions are high to achieve perfection, and family members are moving back, the perfect storm in which to brew stress.
So what can we do about this? Do we resign ourselves to an uncomfortable holiday as we assume stress to be inevitable? Not at all. Actually, the “answer” starts with the formulation of the question itself.
If you know there will be family stress during the holiday, base your expectations as such. If you know that one uncle will be drunk once again, or that cousins whom you can’t stand will be at a function, base your expectations as such. If that uncle gets drunk every year, don’t act surprised when he does it yet again. Why would you expect him to act any differently? Enter the holiday season with realistic expectations as to how people will act and plan accordingly. Therefore no surprises or hurt feelings. Actually, if for some reason they act in a healthy way, such as not getting drunk, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Keep your expectations realistic. No family is or will ever be perfect.
I write and often speak on this topic of feelings and how no one makes us feel any such way. Our nature tends to seek blame for when we don’t like how we are feeling. If I’m feeling happy or joyous, I’ll own that feeling! I’ll tell everyone how “I” feel. But, if I’m angry or sad or disappointed, I need to find the person or situation for which I can blame for those feelings. So if I’m disappointed in how the family gathering is progressing, I’ll be sure to vocalize how uncle so-and-so “made” me feel. Yet, in reality, no one makes us feel anything. People act, we react. But we have a choice in our reaction. If I kept my expectations based on reality, and uncle so-and-so is once again ruining the evening, I can choose to feel what I want since I already prepared myself for his actions. I don’t have to feel disappointed. And if I do feel frustrated, that’s my choice, just as it’s your uncle’s choice to do his actions.
When you’re creating your realistic expectations, remind yourself that it’s OK to feel how you feel. And it’s OK if not every family member agrees with the other members. A family’s bond is not in agreement with everyone, the relationship is in the love and the connections of the members. Yet, since each member of the family is an individual person as well, they may have different thoughts and opinions from others in the family. Remind yourself that it’s OK. Just as each family member has their own views, so too, you have your own opinions and feelings. You don’t have to convince others as to your opinion, nor do you have to justify your feelings. Be yourself, yet understand that as a member of the family, the family itself has importance. As you accept others in the family, accept yourself as a member too.
The holiday blues are a real phenomenon, with half of us feeling some stress and fatigue if not mild depression. The holiday blues are felt by people as a result of the holiday season. Yet, some people are entering the holiday season already feeling stressed, anxious, sad, grieving, depressed, etc. How do I enjoy the holidays while helping people I know to cope with their holiday blues?
“If one were to devise an experimental set of circumstances which would test the integrity of an individual’s mood control, one would invent the year-end holiday season.” Jonathan Himmelhoch, Psychiatrist, Western Psychiatric Institute, and Clinic
The holiday blues are real, and according to at least one study, about half of us experience the holiday blues (the survey reached 786 adults, 18 years or older Fall of 2006). But some people suffer the holiday blues because they entered the holiday season already feeling sad, depressed, anxious, etc. The seemingly joyous time of the year enhances their depression and anxiety.
I don’t think there is any other time of the year, which evokes such strong emotions as does this time of the year. For some of us, we are excited, joyous, filled with wonder and anticipation! We visit family and friends, host parties and gatherings, spreading joy everywhere we go! But yet some of us feel quite the opposite this time of the year. I think of those who recently lost a loved one, suffering from physical or mental health issues, separated from loved ones, and even estranged from the family. There are those whose past experience of the holidays wasn’t pleasant, and those who feel trapped in life situations.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” While these song lyrics may be accurate for some, they’re not necessarily right for everyone. I’m not writing this to bring down the mood, but what I am saying is that we need to be mindful of people around us who may be suffering while we celebrate. Some of my current clients are dreading these next few weeks, while other clients are looking forward to a new beginning!
Regardless of how we may feel about the holidays themselves, this time of the year finds many of us feeling the burden for perfection. As joyous as we may be, the expectations for a “Rockwell Christmas” haunt the best of us. While we still have our day-to-day tasks to complete, we must also decorate, buy gifts, and attend social functions. These expectations, especially if we feel obligated, can cause stress and anxiety even in those who enjoy this time of the year. Now imagine the stress and anxiety felt by those who are merely trying to cope with life, let alone the added expectation of the season.
This time of the year, we tend to focus more of our attention on helping others and on giving back. Therefore, what can we do to either help or give to someone who is suffering during this holiday season?
- Create an awareness within yourself and your children that not everyone feels joyous this time of the year. This awareness is not meant to place a burden on us, but as a recognition for the reality of others.
- Create an environment where all people feel open to sharing their feelings honestly. While attending or planning, parties and gatherings don’t encourage everyone to participate, be respectful of those who are having a difficult time participating. Try to plan activities that would allow a person to participate in the degree in which they feel comfortable.
- Be mindful that your expectations of what makes up a holiday celebration may not be the expectations of others. Allow yourself the flexibility to be open to the traditions of others as well as to how others may be feeling. For example, if you are organizing the family dinner, take into account any family members who have had a challenging year. Allow them space or the time to speak, or not speak, if they wish. Be aware that their showing up may have been a difficult task in and of itself.
- If you know someone struggling to cope with a mental illness, or emotionally struggling, be a supportive friend. Allow time in your holiday schedule to be present to them, even if words aren’t spoken. Never underestimate the positive effect and healing quality of presence. If possible and appropriate, encourage them to join you at small gatherings and surround them with people who have their best interests at heart. Isolation, especially during the holidays, is not healthy.
- Encourage them to do activities focused on taking care of themselves and their emotional health, regardless of the expectations placed upon them by themselves or others. Help them to understand that It doesn’t make you a selfish person when you prioritize yourself, it is actually essential toward your well-being.
- Take time from the busyness of this season to be an active listener to those who wish to share their feelings. Encouraging and allowing others to share how they feel may be the most helpful thing you can do for them. If they are reluctant to share, lovingly help them by letting them know that you will listen without judgment regardless of what they wish to talk about and share.
During this holiday season, as many of us join together with our families and friends, let’s be grateful and joyous in our traditions and fellowship. But let’s not forget those who are emotionally suffering at this time of the year. Being respectful, understanding, and lovingly present is the best holiday gift a person can receive.
The time of the year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is filled with high expectation leading us into holiday stress. The expectation for perfection is great, causing us stress and a lack of peace when we desire this to be a time of joy with the celebration of family traditions. Here are my 4 tips to find peace in the holiday stress.
This time of the year is when I reflect upon my own childhood memories; memories filled with awe and wonder as the world seemed to be magical. Unfortunately, this time of the year is also one of increased holiday stress due to all the activities we feel we need to do. Our wish to make this time of the year “perfect” increases our expectations, many of them unreasonable, causing us to overwork in our planning efforts.
As a child, I fondly recall watching the animated Christmas specials and reading all the Christmas books I could find. Those stories not only have positive endings, but most of them also depict perfection. In these stories families gather and get along with each other, the house is majestically decorated, the dining room table set to rival the fanciest restaurant. My favorite American painter, Norman Rockwell, painted scenes of American life; some showing pain and suffering, others idyllic life scenes. Rockwell’s holiday paintings are among my favorite as they depict a world I wish existed, although knowing that a perfect world doesn’t exist.
This longing of mine, like the desire and longing of many other people, is part of the cause of our holiday stress during this season. We tend to focus our attention on the memories of the past, coupled with fictional idealisms of the holiday, producing a desire to re-create what never was, nor most likely ever will be. The holidays, as we perceived them in childhood, cannot now be reproduced through our adult perceptions, nor can we expect to create an experience depicted in the controlled environments of scripts, actors, and a stage.
The issue that I encounter this time of the year is one of unrealistic expectations which create the holiday stress that takes away our peace. Trying to re-create a “perfection” which actually never existed means that we will fall short in our attempts. Not achieving my expectations could be interpreted as a failure.
We have control over our feelings in the current moment. Let’s not lose the experience of what is happening by living in either the past or the future. Experience the present moment for what it is. As I recall my childhood memories of the holidays, I try to keep them focused on the experience of the moment. Don’t let an expectation of perfection cloud the beauty and the feeling of the memory. Enjoy the memory without trying to do anything with or to it. Live the moment without expectation and you will find that the holiday stress of perfection will fade.
During this holiday season, here are the steps I am working on to keep myself as stress-free as possible:
- Refocus expectations: Take time to reflect on your expectations, considering what is realistic and what is not realistic. For example, we may want a house decorated as we’ve seen in advertisements, but, no matter how hard we try it never looks as it does in the pictures. If you reframe your expectation and perception, you would recognize that you haven’t failed, actually, you created something unique, something that reflects you, not an ad.
- Change your perception: Changing the way we perceive ourselves will change our perception of our world. Therefore, changing our view of this time of the year will change our expectations and so reduce our stress. For example, if you are hosting family, and the reality is that your uncle always makes a fool of himself at these family gatherings, keep your perspective focused on reality. Plan for what you can in expectation of your uncle’s shenanigans, for when your uncle acts as he always acts, don’t let it stress you; he is only doing as you expected him to do (and you previously planned for it). At least he’s consistent.
- Learn from your past: It’s important to spend time reflecting on our past, honoring the memories for what they are, and sharing them with current family and friends. Our past has shaped who we are today. Use the lessons of the past to create a present moment of peace. The purpose of the past is not to be recreated in the present, but to be incorporated with the present. Take what was positive for you in the past and use it in the present. What wasn’t positive for you in the past, modify now in the present to be positive. Our past was not perfect; don’t expect the present or the future to be perfect either.
- Simplify your life: Easier said than done, I know. But if you think about it, our material goods, although useful, can be a source of our stress when our focus emphasizes “things”. Living simply means keeping a proper focus, or perspective, on what is truly important in life. Keep your expectations and perceptions rooted on who you are, not on who you think you should be.
During this holiday season, take the time to enjoy the wonders, joy, and magic of the season. Keep your perspective and expectations reasonable to reduce your holiday stress. Most importantly, focus on what is truly important to you!