Sunday, November 15, 2009

Coping with Holiday Stress & Blues

The holidays are approaching and it can be an exciting time. People are busy making plans to visit with loved ones, attend parties, throw dinners and travel long distances. The holidays are presented by the media as a magical time of fun and celebration. They are presented as a time of renewed connection with family members, partners and loves. We are fed images of shining happy faces who are meeting, greeting and exchanging gifts in front of a backdrop of abundance and welcoming arms. I say, “Sign me up!”

However, the reality we experience can be quite different. Generally, we are facing financial strains, time pressures and unresolved family issues as a result of the holiday season. I'm not saying this to take away of the magic we might experience during this time, however, these are real experiences that people face during the holidays. We tend to place so much pressure on ourselves to have a good time, that we end up having a miserable time from all the pressure we place on ourselves.

First, try to maintain a realistic perspective on what you are able and not able to do during the holiday season. Many times, people feel that they have to attend every invite they receive and this can become overwhelmingly stressful. Become clear on what you are willing and not willing to do. Pare down your commitments to what feels reasonable to you and what you are comfortably able to do. You may have to graciously decline some of the invites to keep your sanity and reduce your stress level. Prioritize what events and social gatherings are important to you and just do those. You don’t have to do everything that comes your way. After all, it’s not reasonable to stop your normal day to day schedule or cram it full just because it’s the holidays.

The holidays is a time when we gather with family. Many times, those families have lots of unresolved issues that can explode during the holidays. The reason is that the physical distance we have had from those members throughout the year has played a modifying effect on our reactiveness to them. Now, the holidays are here and we are forced to be together. Given the demand on our emotions and the other stresses around the holidays, we do not have the same emotional resources at our disposal that maintains our composure when under stress. We may find that we explode at family members with very little provocation.

To help get a better handle on the situation, do not force yourself to spend much time with people who irritate you. Be realistic. Your problems with a particular relative are not going to magically disappear because it’s the holidays. Reduce your exposure or avoid that person if you can. The holidays are not the time to work out your differences. There are too many other demands on your shoulders at this time. Should you choose to work out your issues with that individual, do it at a different, less stressful time.

Another good coping stratigy is to take many short breaks from family gatherings. Go out for a short walk or talk to a friend on the phone. Taking frequent breaks can help break feelings of rising tension and reduce stress enough to allow you to reenter the situation with your family with greater composure.

If you are under financial stress, cut back on the gift giving. Buying expensive gifts is very stressful if you don’t have the means and you will be paying off that gift into the next year causing you even more stress. The idea of giving a gift is about showing a gesture of love and thought. It is not about competing for attention or buying off someone. Small gifts can have a greater impact than large expensive gifts if you put some thought into the gift.

Putting thought into the gift means give some consideration into what kind of gift the recipient would appreciate that conveys to them that you understand their interests, likes and/or who they are as people. It’s a way of showing them you appreciate them and know something about them. When you give a gift that shows the other that you understand something about them, it is truly loved and appreciated.

The holidays can also be a time of great depression. The number of individuals suffering from depression tends to rise during this time. With society at large throwing warm welcoming families, abundance, and romantic love into the faces of those who may not have those things, it can be quite an upsetting experience. Who really wants to be reminded day in and day out on such a large scale that they lack any or all of those things. It can make us feel lonely, helpless and hopeless.

If you find yourself in that situation, you need to take stock of your expectations and make sure they're realistic. Don't expect more of yourself this time of year than you would at any other time. Take a break from holiday music and television specials if you find that they're turning you into "Scrooge."

Most people dread the holidays because their inner experience is so different from what is being hyped. You should trust your own instincts and don't try to be what you're not. Keep up your normal routine and know that this day will pass too.

If, however, you are unable to shake what you think are "holiday blues" your feelings may not be about the holidays, but about other things in your life. If you need help in sorting out or dealing with this issue, seek out a licensed therapist with the training to help you do so.

To help you cope over the holiday season, you may want to check out Dr. Walton’s free audio affirmations. To watch Dr. Walton’s videos on overcoming depression you may log onto his site listed at LAtherapist. To assist you in stress relief or anger management over the holidays you may check out his albums on and iTunes. For more information on Dr. Walton you may log onto his website at

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