by Nancy Travers,LCSW
Holidays are supposed to be a happy time, filled with food, family and fun. It’s a time of holiday music echoing through the shopping centers, spending long nights indoors with loved ones, and generally being thankful for every blessing that we’ve encountered in the last year. This season is meant to be the most wonderful time of the year, yet more than 80 percent of us admit that the holiday season is at least somewhat, if not very, stressful! The effort to create the perfect holiday gets to many of us, and the resulting anxiety can wreak havoc on our health and our relationships.
Relationships can be especially trying during the holiday season. While we’re busy attending to what can seem like a million details, we can be putting undue stress on ourselves, our partners and our relationship. Often, the holiday season is a time when everyone has their own idea about the perfect celebration, when to see family, and other priorities. It is easy to get wrapped in shopping for gifts and planning, and even easier to neglect thorough communication with our significant others. With stretched mental capacities, physical abilities, and budgets—this is the perfect time to fall into a cycle of misunderstanding and conflict.
Instead of letting the holiday stress affect you and your loved ones, take the time to evaluate yourself and the situation. Recognizing that you are stressed can help you curb any behaviors or remarks that may lead to an argument with your partner, your friends, or your family. Soothe your holiday anxiety by trying out a few of these tips to get through the season:
- Talk to your partner.Â Before you set foot in a mall or dial the first number to begin planning your family’s holiday trip, take the time to discuss plans thoroughly with your partner. Be sure that your plans meet everyone’s needs. If you both want to celebrate the holiday with your families, now is the time to work out the details of the trips; poor planning can lead to over-booked schedules, rushed visits, and resentment during the celebration. You may decide to see one family group in November and the next in December; or, if you have enough vacation time, or family that is not too far apart, you might plan to spend the morning at one family’s gather and the evening at the next. Even if you have a long-standing holiday tradition, make sure that your partner is OK with repeating it. Discussing these details with your partner will ensure that everyone is happy with the plans, and that everyone feels included in these important holiday details.
- Host the Holidays at Your Home.Â Many people feel overwhelmed by the travel involved in the holiday season. Instead of worrying about catching a plane or making a long drive, invite people to come to you. This will allow you to bring many groups of people together, and can help eliminate one or two tasks from your to-do list. You might even find that hosting the celebration builds bonds between groups of relatives that haven’t had the chance to get to know one another.
- Be Realistic About Your Holiday Plans.Â During the holidays, we all turn into perfectionists. To make it through the season with minimal stress, you should realize your limitations and your time constraints. Take on only what you feel that you can work into your schedule, with time to spare. Remember, every holiday doesn’t have to be just like the last one, and you certainly don’t have to say yes to every invitation that you receive. There are only so many hours in a day, and everyone will enjoy being together so much more if those hours are not hectic, anxious affairs.
- Write out your schedule and your budget—then stick to it! Writing out a schedule and a budget can help you manage your holiday expectations. A written schedule can help you visualize how realistic your holiday plans actually are. Be sure to schedule high priority events and tasks first; allow enough time to drive to each destination, and time to enjoy yourself. Your budget should also help you minimize holiday stress. Be sure to include gift allowance for every person, the cost of attending any holiday events, and travel expenses.
- Set aside your differences and try to enjoy the seasonal togetherness.Â There will always be at least one relative or acquaintance that has the ability to rub you the wrong way. Recognize who you will be dealing with during the holiday season, and prepare yourself for the event. Accept everyone for who they are, and try to be understanding of everyone’s behaviors and comments. If you have problems with a family member that you see only during the holidays, it might help to remember that they are likely dealing with holiday stress too!
- Be prepared for conflict.Â Everyone is stressed, and ’tis the season for anxiety. Don’t be surprised if a loved one feels a little out of control; you might feel the same way yourself. Approach situations with understanding and a sense of humor. If you and your significant other usually end up in arguments during the holidays, remember to use responsible communication methods and fight fair.
- Seek professional help if you need it.Â It’s not surprising that some people seek out counselors during the holidays. If the season is truly affecting your mental health—if you feel consistently sad or anxious, have problems sleeping, are irritable, or are having trouble maintaining your daily routine—consider talking to your doctor or a mental health professional. A counselor or other professional can help you gain perspective on your situation, help you manage your time and expectations, and work through your troubles to help you have a better holiday.