Written By: Robert R. Cassman, LPCC, NCC, CCMHC
For most people, Christmas and other holidays are a time of excitement and happiness. For about 30% of people, however, the holidays are anything but fun and happy.
Many people report feeling overly stressed, exhausted and agitated. Some also report increased depression. The holidays, in particular, Christmas, lead to shopping and obligations to visit relatives. The expectations people place on themselves (“I have to get all these presents” and “we need to see my parents”) can lead to an increase in stress. Of those who report an increase in stress, a majority say they are more stressed at work than they are at home. The idea they are taking a significant portion of time off may lead to them feeling as though they are running out of time. Many people’s anxiety is increased when there are “deadlines,” even if those “deadlines” are to buy presents.
While most people think of Christmas as a time to get together with family, some begin to think of the family they no longer have. If a mother or child died, a person may be reminded of that loss heavier during the time when we are “supposed” to be with family. Some may have had abusive and dysfunctional childhoods and are reminded of those times during the holidays. Watching movies in which the family “gets together in the end” may be a painful reminder of one’s own lack of family.
Thinking of those we do have can be a way to combat some of the sadness. Instead of dwelling on those relatives who have died, if we think on those we do have, we change our focus to something positive. If we have painful memories of abuse, the challenge can be to see that we are no longer in those dysfunctional situations. The past is the past and does not have to control how we feel now. For those who get overwhelmed with the “running around” reminding oneself of what is really important may help. Ask yourself “do I HAVE TO buy this present now?” A little planning can go a long way. Start thinking of presents earlier. Also, remember you don’t HAVE TO visit everyone you’ve ever met. A “simpler” Christmas can still be just as great as a “big Christmas.” Volunteering is a way to “get out of our heads” and to help others. One of the best ways to fight depression is doing things for other people. Finally, some people are affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD.) In a previous post, I discussed SAD and some ways to help you overcome it. Trying some of the suggestions to combat SAD can also help during the cold holidays.