Got "holiday" stress?

  • Published
  • By Diane Schiff
  • Director of Psychological Health
I wish you all a joyous and stress-free holiday season. This may take some work on your part if you, like many in our culture, have fallen prey to the myth of the "perfect" holiday.

The myth is pervasive and insidious as it leads to three causes of stress; lofty expectations, busy holiday schedules, and the inevitable departure from our comfortable routines. With just a little perspective about these pressures, our holidays can be incredibly festive, relaxing and fun. 

When was the last holiday that went perfectly? The meal was hot and delicious, all the presents were perfect and purchased without going over budget, and there was no tension or conflict between guests. What are some of your expectations? Consider making a list. It may be unpleasant, but as they say, "An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure."

We have been bombarded by unrealistic expectations in TV commercials, movies, children's stories and even from our family members. Expectations can set us up to do some unorthodox things. Think about the Black Friday shopper who, in order to save a few bucks, allegedly fired pepper spray into a crowd in order to clear a path to some discounted X-Box 360s.

Another source of stress this time of year is increased 'doing'. Our to-do lists get out of control. Is it realistic to think that we can accomplish all these tasks in addition to work, family and personal responsibilities? Yet we believe we have to persevere and get it all done in time. This may be why so many people feel a huge sense of relief by about Jan. 2. The pressure is off and we can get back to our lives.

And this leads to yet another source of stress - altering or giving up the daily routines that sustain us. We stop exercising, taking quiet time, spending quality time with our loved ones, doing hobbies, and so on. We have to because we run out of time and energy crossing items off of our to-do list.

For some of us, holiday stress is caused by the assumption that we will be with significant others. We're taught that a big part of the holidays is about connection, being with loved ones. But what if you are alone without family or friends this year?

This expectation exaggerates feelings of isolation and is a set up for loneliness and depression. Please take a look around to identify those that may not have companionship - be it family or a circle of close friends. Considering inviting them to your holiday gatherings. Most tables can accommodate one or two more guests.

Please don't hesitate to contact me if you are stressed out and want to vent and brainstorm some strategies to de-stress your holidays. Just remember, it's okay if the turkey is a little dry, and if there's a little drama at the dinner table. In hindsight, you and your family will remember this holiday as being just as "perfect" as all the rest.

All my best - and happy holidays,