Local experts share the latest information and resources on all things mental health.
Posted: December 04, 2014 by Chad Ernest, MS, LPC
The holidays can be extra stressful for everyone. Whether you are having visitors, seeing family and friends, or even spending time alone, each situation brings its own brand of stress. There are ways to prepare yourself and your family for the holidays so that everyone can deal with the stress in the most effective way. Here are a few things to consider that may help you get through the holidays unscathed….
Money is often tight around the holidays. There are gifts to buy, parties to throw and elaborate meals to cook…on top of all your regular bills. Make a list of what you have to buy. Prepare a budget to see if you can afford to pay for all the extra expenses without breaking your bank. Try to find cost savings where possible. For example, if you are having family or friends over for a holiday dinner, instead of doing the whole meal yourself, turn it into a potluck. When you can, don’t purchase brand new items, go with used. Be creative, make gifts.
The stress of providing for children and the pressure put on families by the consumer economy, can make the holidays extra challenging. Again, be creative. Think about buying a child one thing from their list and then making it into a big game to get it. Children may want all the best and newest toys and electronics, but is that what the holiday season is all about? What about the opportunity to spend time together as a family? Volunteering as a family can become a family tradition and teach children empathy and compassion.
Depression is a common reaction to the holidays, usually stemming from feelings of loneliness and loss. Prepare to counteract that by reaching out and talking to friends and family. If you don’t want to do that or feel you have no one to reach out to, consider volunteering to spend the holidays helping others. Also if you are alone for the holidays, don’t be afraid to celebrate in your own unique way. The holidays don’t have to pass by unrecognized just because you are by yourself. Celebrate and have fun. Give yourself permission to enjoy it.
Anxiety over being with family and friends, or perhaps hanging out with people who knew you in the past, but no longer know you, can be difficult. Patterns and old ways of talking to each other emerge. You can expect certain behaviors from them or certain behaviors from you. Be open. Accept the things you can’t control, like how grumpy grandpa is, or maybe he has changed and is sweet as pie, but you expect him to be grumpy and try and push his buttons. Remember that family and friends are there to enjoy each other’s company, not torture and ridicule each other (unless that is okay with all of you).
Holiday stress makes some people want to employ negative coping skills like drinking, drugs, total avoidance, arguments, or even physical violence. Recognize what it is you do to cope with what stresses you out about the holidays, whether it’s being alone, all the things you have to prepare for, money that you have to spend or family and friends. Acknowledge both the positive things and the negative things that you do. Try to replace those negative ways of dealing with stress around the holidays with the more positive coping skills: like going for a walk, taking a 10 minute meditation/relaxation break, playing games, changing the subject to something less infuriating, accepting that you and someone are different and will likely not see eye to eye, agree to disagree, take a deep breath, do what you enjoy, take time for yourself to recharge. Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone if you are struggling. The number one coping skill is to share how you are feeling with others. It is the holidays, share with each other.