The holiday season is upon us.
For some, this is a joyous time anticipated all year long. They excitedly await the day they can start their various holiday rituals.
But many others feel anxious as the holiday season approaches. The closer the holidays get, the greater the levels of stress they experience. Those struggling with mental illnesses suffer the most. The National Alliance on Mental Health found that nearly two-thirds of people with mental illness report their conditions worsening over the holidays.
However, that stress isn’t limited to those with pre-existing mental issues. The modern expectations of the perfect holiday event can place extra pressure on even the most die-hard holiday fans. A study from the American Physiological Association found that nearly one-quarter of everyone surveyed felt highly stressed during the holidays. More than half of those polled would like to skip the holidays altogether.
So, as the holiday season approaches, it’s worth acknowledging the stress and anxiety it places on all of us. Know that you’re not alone if you feel burdened, pressured, or burned out. Instead of dealing with it on your own this holiday season, it’s worth taking some time to understand why you feel this way and get some techniques from a trained counselor to help you cope.
How do I know if I’m experiencing holiday stress?
Every person experiences and manifests stress differently. Still, there are some universal signs that you might be experiencing holiday stress. The symptoms are similar to regular stress felt throughout the year, like:
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty maintaining concentration
- Sudden changes in appetite
- Being quick to anger
- Excessive feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Lack of pleasure from activities
But suppose you’re noticing these symptoms become stronger during the holiday season. In that case, there’s a good chance you have some undealt with holiday stressors. When we leave these symptoms unchecked, they can grow until they affect other areas of our lives. Although we try to hide or bury it, stress will eventually express itself in our lives.
If you’re already seeing a personal or couples counselor, it’s worth mentioning any of these symptoms as the holidays approach. A professional therapist can equip you with techniques and help guide you through this challenging time so that this seasonal stress doesn’t cause more significant issues throughout the year.
What causes holiday season stress?
All holidays have become highly commercialized over the years. But none as much as during the festive season that runs from Thanksgiving to New Year. Movies, TV Shows, and other media have given many of us unrealistic expectations of what holiday celebrations should look like and how joyous we should feel.
What none of the Hallmark movies cover are the holiday stressors most experience, like:
- Lacking enough time
- Not having enough money
- Feeling pressured to give/find the perfect present
- Suffering from credit card debt
- Time, money, and energy spent on travel
Many of these stressors have been growing over the last few decades but have become particularly focused recently. With social media, we have pictures and videos of everyone’s “perfect holiday” filling our feeds and raising the pressures we place on ourselves.
We also can’t overlook the pressures placed on us because of family. For many, the holiday season has long been a time to gather together with their families. But if there’s undealt with trauma, family drama, recently broken relationships, new additions, etc., time with the family can amplify the stress already being felt.
Most of us are living our best lives for most of the year. Then, suddenly during the holidays, we’re thrust back into our family’s expectations.
How can I deal with holiday season stress?
For starters, you should never try to shoulder the weight of this stress alone. We can feel like we’ll unduly burden our friends and family with negative talk during the holidays. But that’s our own inner dialogue working against us. Often, our friends and family could be experiencing the exact same things and would welcome someone to talk with.
Feelings of isolation, despite being surrounded by family and friends, is a common sentiment expressed during the holidays. Some of this isolation is self-inflicted, caused by our attempts to hide or manage this stress on our own. So, don’t bottle things up, expecting them to magically disappear. Instead, reach out to friends, family, or your individual counseling therapist or couples therapy counselor.
You can also try one or all of the following tips to help reduce your stress so you can start finding more enjoyment during the season:
Set appropriate boundaries where needed
You should never feel like a bad family member for establishing and maintaining boundaries for yourself and your family. While many want to give to everyone throughout the season, we shouldn’t give to the point of exhaustion. Your boundaries should cover everything from the time you spend with your family to the number of events you attend.
Don’t neglect personal time
Many neglect self-care over the holidays. With so much to do, who has time to go to a marriage or couples counseling therapy session? Or, who has time to go to the gym? In our rush to get everything done or make the holidays great for everyone else, we forget to make them enjoyable for ourselves. Seasonal affective disorder also affects millions of people during the dark and gloomy winter months. This makes it all the more vital to prioritize self-care throughout the season.
Embrace the imperfect
Most of us want to create perfect holiday memories. But that’s unrealistic. No event will ever reach perfection. In fact, sometimes our best or favorite memories stem from something that went off-script. Someone’s bad Christmas sweater became a lovingly remembered family joke that sparked a new family tradition. Being able to embrace the imperfect is especially important for newer couples hosting their first family celebration or larger families with long-held traditions. It’s admirable to strive for something special, but never lose sight of what you do have because you want every single detail to be perfect.
Open yourself to new traditions
Stemming from the above, try adopting an attitude of being open to change and new possibilities. Sure, the holidays are a time of honoring long-held family traditions for many. But sometimes, these traditions are never given a second thought, and family members are held hostage to decisions made generations ago. When we try too hard to recapture something that worked before, we’re setting ourselves up for comparisons and stress. Why spend days over a stove creating foods no one really enjoys eating? If something is no longer bringing joy to you or your family, drop it or change it to something new. And when we’re doing something for the first time, we go easier on ourselves and enjoy more of the journey.
We hope you experience joy during the holidays
Despite all we’ve just said, the holidays can still be a joyous time. Sometimes, all we need is to hear from others that they’re stressed or bothered by something too.
We’re not saying to stop working to create special memories for yourself and your family. We’re simply hoping to remind you to take care of yourself and not overextend your mental health for a passing celebration.
The holidays are supposed to be a time of connection, remembrance, and celebration with those we love. If you find anything is taking away from that, don’t be afraid to drop it or scale it back.
Also, don’t forget to take care of yourself. You have to be in a place to give, and that begins with self-care. Get support from your friends and family, and seek guidance from your therapist or couples counselor.
Please connect with me or any trained and licensed therapist or relationship counselor if you are feeling stressed, burdened, or isolated during this time.