A Time for Celebration, Joy — and Stress

by Phyllis L. Neumann, MS, MFT

The holiday season is here again. Many people look forward to rejoicing, celebrating, having parties, and sharing gifts and love, while others view the holidays with an increasing amount of anxiety, loneliness and depression. This is also the time of year when jails are overcrowded and mental health hotlines receive their greatest number of distressed calls and threats of suicide.

The holidays bring families together, but some families should not be brought together — ever. There is a tremendous amount of stress that goes with keeping up a family image for a family you don’t get along with the rest of the year. Others don’t have families at all, and the holiday messages in the media stir up a constant reminder of their loneliness and isolation.

There is a great amount of pressure to buy presents. Many families cannot always afford these kinds of presents, so the choice is sometimes between financial stress or parental guilt.

Parties are springing up everywhere — at work, at school, in the neighborhood, at friends’ homes. Those who are loners or who have few friends may tend to feel excluded. The rest of the year these feelings are generally kept safely under wraps.

Coping with the Holidays

Remember that the holiday season can be a particularly stressful time of year. If you are feeling lonely or depressed, make this holiday season more gratifying by lowering your expectations. Take small risks in ways that will bring you more rewarding results — without setting yourself up for failure. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, tackle projects you can’t finish, or seek out people who may reject you.

The holidays are filled with the frenzy of trying to cram too much into too little time. Slow down your pace and plan your time more wisely. Don’t spend frantic days buying presents for people you don’t really care about. Buy only for people who are special to you. Send the rest Christmas cards instead. Increase your “wants” and reduce your “shoulds.”

  • Nurture yourself in small ways. Pay attention to your emotional and physical needs. Build a fire, play some music and relax. Soak in a tub, get a massage, or even buy yourself a present.
  • Be with people in your life who love and care about you — your family and close friends. Reach out to them instead of waiting for them to come to you. Invite close friends over or visit friends you know will welcome you. Let people know how you feel about them. Say it in a card, letter, gift, phone call or email (especially someone you haven’t spoken to in a while).
  • Give to others in small ways — because it makes you feel good. Let someone get ahead of you in line or on the road. Help out those more needy than you. Be sensitive to those who may not be able to share your enthusiasm. Invite someone without a family to spend Christmas day with you and your family. (You might even consider paying the bridge toll for the car behind you.)

Reach out and touch someone this holiday season. It will brighten up your day and make the holidays easier to take — and a lot more fun.

Have a Happy Holiday Season!