Summary: Did you ever wonder why the end of the year holidays causes so much stress? It is essential because of last year’s restrictions on staying at home. Here is “the why” for many and also ways to handle holiday stress more effectively.
Dear Dr. Sylvia,
How do I get year-end work done, prepare for family gatherings, and stay in a happy mood? Do you see all I want to do in the morning is pull the covers over my head?
That’s a question I ask myself starting the day after Halloween non-stop till New Year’s Eve becomes a faint memory in early January.
Holiday stress can make the end of year less fun and more frustrating.
Why is there so much stress and frustration during this time of turkey, tinsel, and mistletoe? Is it that way for everyone? So many say it seems impossible for the end of the year to be fun and easy. And yes, that’s just about for everyone I know.
Above all, do you have any suggestions for helping me change my mindset?
Invisible stress is high during times of holiday stress
Take a deep breath and read this before crawling into bed to put the covers over your head.
Above all, take heart. There are reasons why holiday stress hits hard for so many people. Yes, the music and ads all want to make you feel good. However, that is just like too much tinsel on the tree.
For example, many either want to remember and replicate the holiday season from childhood with rose-colored glasses. Further, childhood memories can create more holiday stress with unpleasant thoughts about tough times. When this happens, you desire to make better memories.
The problem is, reality has a way of coming in and throwing some curveballs.
Control holiday stress by learning about your personal stress reactions.
Firstly, there are circumstances beyond personal control.
For instance, the electricity goes out right before Thanksgiving dinner. That leaves the turkey only half cooked. Then you bring out the hot dogs!
Or perhaps your favorite sibling brings some friends to camp out at your place for “just a few days,” and it’s now over a week.
Then the forecast for a few inches of snow turns into the blizzard of the century.
Above all, this year, there is still fear of another pandemic surge.
Invisible stress goes into high gear when childhood memories are strong.
In the same vein, you find that the project you are working on needs more attention. You have to stay at your computer just when your kid is the cute elf in the school play.
Subsequently, you remember how disappointed you were when you had a speaking part as an angel when you were ten, and both parents had to miss your moment of glory due to work.
Perhaps you have to contend with your mean-spirited, bully boss. Sadly, she decides to lay off four employees, and guess who has to tell them the bad news?
Similarly, this one kicks you in the gut. You think about how your father was laid off right before Christmas when you were a teen.
On the other hand, you are lucky enough to visit family out of town. Sadly, you are ready for this fantastic family vacation to visit relatives. And the damn flight chart flashes delay after delay until the flight was finally canceled.
In addition, you think back to how your favorite aunt and uncle missed the holiday dinner when you were a kid. They stuck it out in a similarly overcrowded airport with no way out.
Holiday stress has a way of building up and becomes unsustainable.
Then there are the self-inflicted disappointments.
Most importantly, you don’t have the funds together for the unique bike you promised your son.
In addition, you see your spouse spending way too much money on gifts that s/he thinks will be a surprise, except all the receipts are on the kitchen table, and you are fuming.
Similarly, your memory shows up in neon, about all the promises for great presents. Filled with excitement, you opened your gifts only and ended up with underwear because it was the necessary gift.
Likewise, you can all add more stories to the list. These are just the ones from yesterday. I did a program about holiday stress on Zoom with several workplace teams. The theme was to help employees learn to “practice safe stress.”
During the program, I gave the groups some mindfulness exercises and showed them how to breathe slowly and deeply to limit anxiety and quench anger. I taught them how to re-frame the disappointments into opportunities using cognitive psychology.
Most importantly, I helped them see how the invisible stress reactions from childhood show up in present-day situations.
Practice safe stress during the holidays, its good for you.
Here are some books and other ways to help you stay in what I describe as “the safe stress zone.”
Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, by Robert Sapolsky
Stress relief music on YouTube
Make art: write in a journal, sing, dance, paint, and take a walk in nature.
Get a coach to help you see your blind spots.
And especially take some time to ask your family members about themselves. Keep it short and straightforward. You will be surprised how much better you feel when you extend yourself with a caring and generous nature.
In conclusion, I wish you joy-filled and caring holidays.
Here’s to your success,
PS. Take the Stress Test to see how you handle holiday stress before it gets out of control.