The holidays can be some of the most exciting and stressful times of the year. I have patients that come to me during this time and tell me "I am so stressed out I cannot even have fun" or "I cannot wait until the holidays are over!". I find these statements to be concerning and sad, because the holidays are supposed to be fun, relaxing and full of joy and love.

So, how do people get so far off track for the holidays? I think there are three main reasons:

  1. The preoccupation with trying to 'buy' gifts and the financial stress that the holidays can place upon people.
  2. Unresolved interpersonal relationships: for some reason the holidays are a great time for conflict.
  3.  People take on too much and feel "obligated" to others.People take on too much and feel "obligated" to others.

First, the financial side of the holidays can evoke stress for many individuals and families. Let's face it, times are hard and the pressure to "show love and appreciation" through gifts can be overwhelming. I recommend that people discuss the issue of spending too much money on gifts with one another. In most cases, other people will feel this same stress and will appreciate an open and honest discussion about spending or not spending money during the holidays. There are many ways to show appreciation and love without spending money. For example, give "Time Vouchers" to people you love. They can use a voucher to spend special time together going for a walk, having dinner together, or attending a play or movie. The time spent together will be far more cherished than buying a token gift that will soon be forgotten. This time of the season is supposed to be fun and relaxing! Don't overextend yourself financially, or this will always make the holidays stressful.

Second, there is an old saying "Families are a mixed blessing." There is nothing that can increase stress, anxiety and depression more during the holidays than difficult relationships. The holidays tend to bring families together even if they prefer not to be together. One of the things that I encourage people to do is to have an exit plan. If things start to make you feel uncomfortable, take a walk, excuse yourself and talk with a favorite cousin, uncle, aunt or play with the kids at the party or simply leave. Adults have the option to excuse themselves and leave a difficult situation. In addition, talk about the situation with your spouse or loved ones and come up with a plan before attending any party. Have a "Code" word or sign which indicates to the other person that "It is time to go!" That way everyone will be aware of the exit plan and can act accordingly. This can make a stressful situation inherently less stressful.

Lastly, people tend to over-commit during the holidays. This is especially true for young adults and new parents. Everyone wants you to stop by their house, bring over the new baby, come to the party or stop over for dinner etc. Limit the number of visits on any particular day or night. The stress of trying to run over to Mom's, Dad's, Grandmas and friends' houses can be overwhelming. If you cannot attend a particular party, ask the host if you can stop by or have them over another time, when things are not so hectic. They may appreciate the ability to spend more quality time together. By planning a special time to spend with that person or persons, people will help them feel better about your absence and more appreciative of the one-on-one time you can give them.

Remember, the holidays are a stressful time for EVERYONE. Do not be afraid to set limits on money, gifts, relationships and engagements. Most of the time the way you feel is exactly the way others feel at this time of year. By following these simple guidelines your holidays will be less stressful! Then you can enjoy better time well spent, time for Fun, Relaxation, Peace, Joy and Love!

Happy Holidays and have a wonderful and safe New Year!

Dr Q

Fools Cannot Keep New Year's Resolutions