holiday stress square

by Gary Schreiner, PhD, Director of Behavioral Health

The holidays are typically a joyous time filled with love, gratitude and the spirit of giving. However, the holidays can also be stressful. Tension can come from a financial strain, or perhaps added pressure of a long To-Do list in a fairly short amount of time. Some may have experienced loss of a loved one, which can be especially difficult during the holidays.

One person has memories of baked cookies, mom in the kitchen, dad setting up the ornaments, fire in the fireplace, and gently falling snow outside.  Another person remembers no decorations, no excitement for upcoming vacation, just the dread that another holiday will pass without fun, presents, or good food.

Both of these scenarios can cause stress in our lives, depending on the meaning we put into them. The first scenario could create stress because, when we remember these pleasant times as a child, we were not aware of the stress of baking or cooking all day or “making everything perfect”. Nor do we remember the time crunch our parents were always under to complete everything that needed to be done. It’s especially important to take care of yourself and your mental health this holiday season. Make an effort to be present for each other and for friends and family, as this can be the most memorable and special gift of all.

Two different scenarios with different results.  In other words, we can make the holidays the way we want with the right attitude and the right perspective, if we are aware and try to be proactive in making the holidays fun and relaxing.  Set manageable goals and expectations, allow for down time and realizing that certain events can, and usually will happen that may complicate our plans.  Remember, the “perfect” holiday is the holiday where we are doing something that makes us happy. This could mean being with family and/or friends, or spending a quiet time with your animal companion watching a good movie. Whatever it is, our expectations and perceptions create stress or decreases our stress. Allow for some blunders to occur and don’t let them ruin your plans.

One doesn’t need a lot of financial resources to enjoy time with family and friends. One special gift for a child can be as special as numerous menial gifts. Younger children don’t care about how much things cost, just that they are opening a present. Making a gift for an important person in your life is more special than a gift from a store. 

Just remember one thing, our perception of an event is what will either eliminate stress or increase our stress, and you have the power to do either.  Enjoy your holidays!