So many of us face anxiety and uncertainty as we approach the holiday season, and for many reasons. Regardless of your religion or cultural background, the holiday season can be a time of stress for many people, all who wish they could completely avoid the entire months of November and December.
Considering that we cannot take a calendar leap from October to January each year, it may be helpful to lay out some of the causes for holiday stress along with some ways to work through them. We have to work toward realigning our thoughts about the holidays as well as our feelings about them, so that the holiday season does have such a negative impact on our lives.
Before we break down the five most common causes for holiday stress, I must say that the foundation for this stress is often the social and media influence surrounding us. During the holiday season we are bombarded by commercials and social pressure to experience the holidays in specific ways.
We feel slighted when we do not have the picture perfect family, the marriage, abundant finances, or the home that matches the commercials and billboards. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and in fact, many of these images are designed for publicity purposes only, and they are NOT reality. So, it’s ok to turn the media off sometimes and just live without those influences, especially if they are causing stress.
HERE ARE THE TOP FIVE CAUSES OF HOLIDAY STRESS:
The number one cause for holiday stress is: FAMILY.
Family is the most common source of stress for many of us. Clashes of personalities, beliefs, values, and our overall likes and dislikes for certain family members can induce high levels of stress as we even think about spending time with our family over the holiday season. Some of us even avoid family gatherings altogether so that we do not have to interact with our family.
I’m not here to say that you should intentionally place yourself in positions of major conflict with others, especially family. However, nobody can choose their family or where they came from. We all have this challenge, and we need to find some way to positively manage this experience.
If at all possible, go visit your family for the holiday, and if conflict arises, do not engage with it. Do not even speak. But go and be present, because one day you might wish you would have done so.
In a scenario like this, the likelihood is that there are other family members present at our family gatherings the we do want to see and engage with. This is when we need to press out and go so that we can see those relatives.
We have to activate our mind over matter, and take the situation at face value. In every area of our lives, there are people we do not prefer to associate with, and we just have to deal with it. Our family dynamics are no different. So stop the negative thinking about it, and be the bigger person (as much as is realistic) and visit those you love (even if you don’t like them) for the holidays.
(Of course, if the family relationship is severely dysfunctional or even violent, I am not advocating your presence. Be wise here. I am referring to the basic nature of dislike, conflict, and disagreements).
The second cause for holiday stress is: MONEY.
The old saying is that: “money is the root of all evil.” Well, let’s take the evil out of it, and say that money is the major root of all holiday stress. I am not sure when the world promoted this gift giving requirement for the holidays, but it does. The holidays are now all about (at least in the media) gifts and shopping. Even the news forecasts how much money each household will spend on gifts, which is estimated to be at about $1, 000 this year.
For some people, spending money on Christmas gifts is no big deal and they have the resources to do so. This is fine. Then there are other people who have limited resources and feel less-than because they cannot provide numerous gifts to their children and family. Some will go to extreme measures to purchase gift and find themselves in difficult financial circumstances following the holiday season. And then we have other people who love the Christmas holiday but do not wish to purchase gifts at all.
We have to learn that everyone is different and each one is right.
The holidays really should be about spending time with our loved ones. From Black Friday to the day after Christmas gift return madness, we quickly feel pressure to shop, spend, and give. If you choose to participate in these aspects of the holiday season, great. But if all of these expectations place stress on you, then step away from your wallet and the stores and do what you think is best.
The third cause for holiday stress is: RELATIONSHIPS.
If you are single, you might feel less-than during the holidays. You see the lovey-dovey commercials and couples around town, and you feel like you are missing out. Those who are married may also feel pressure to have the perfect holiday gathering and demonstrate the ideal relationship. Of course, the people who are recently divorced or just ended a relationship may also feel the sting of the holiday season.
The holiday season is all about people. Family, friends, spouses, those who have passed away, those we are estranged from, and those who are yet to be born. While this can be a very hard aspect of the holidays, this is a part of the holidays that we cannot get away from, and we should not want to. Either way, we have to learn to be satisfied with the way things are in our relationships (or not) during the holidays.
Focusing on what is missing, who is missing, and why we are feeling lonely or separated does not help us to enjoy the holiday season. In many cases, we cannot change these things anyway. Know that regardless of your relationships “statuses” during the holidays, that there is someone else struggling in the same way, or possibly worse. You are not alone in your desire to have the perfect relationships over the holiday season and in your daily life.
The fourth cause for holiday stress is: MATERIALISM.
Much of the holiday influences surrounding us focus on material items and ways to obtain things we often do not need. For some reason, instead of the holiday season being a time of peace and rest, it is a time of anxiety about what we do not have and quick ways to get it.
Credit card offers are everywhere, sales in stores place pressure to “buy now,” and we often attempt to overcompensate in ways where we feel less adequate. Suddenly our homes aren’t nice or big enough, our cars are too old, and our bank accounts are too small.
If you focus on material items, you will miss out on the people around you. Sure, its important to have goals and it’s a blessing to have nice things, but we cannot allow the material items in our life to define who we are. The old saying, “You can’t take these things with you,” is true.
As we age and prepare to leave this earth, we will very likely NOT be on our death-bed wishing that we would have had the newest car or the biggest house we “couldn’t afford.” No, we will be thinking about our family and loved ones, wishing we would have taken and currently had more TIME with THEM.
The fifth and final cause for holiday stress is: OVER-THINKING.
Over-thinking is a cause of stress for anything we experience in life. Over-thinking is like taking any thought and multiplying it by 100, and then multiplying those 100 thoughts by another 100, and so on. It’s not wonder that we feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and defeated when we start over-thinking.
During the holidays we tend to over-think about family, money, relationships, and material items. It is almost like we refuse to be content with the way things are in our lives during the holiday, and become trapped in what should or could be. Well, guess what? We do not live in should or could be time zones. We live in the today, right now time zone, and its all we have.
It will be impossible to enjoy the holidays, despite any family or personal challenges you have, if you over-think about your life and all of its details. Try to allow the holiday season to be a time for true mental rest, taking a break from all of the processing and self-produced anxiety about your life.
Take some time to take care of yourself, love those around you, and just BE.
You have to take action to avoid being stressed out during the holidays. It is possible, but it begins with the way you may currently be thinking and experiencing them.
No matter how you celebrate, or who you are with (or not)…
HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!