For most people, the Christmas and Hanukkah seasons are wonderful and magical times of the year filled with joyful celebration and happiness. The bright-colored lights and splendid decorations of the season remind many of us that the holidays are a time for holding on to fantasies, with the wish of having our every dream fulfilled. Despite this image, for some people the holidays often can be a time of increased stress and loneliness.
Experts have categorized holiday stress in three general areas.
Socioeconomic stress may result from the added financial burdens of gift-giving and of purchasing additional food and drink for special holiday entertaining. Being physically or emotionally separated from one’s family adds to holiday tension. In some cases, the increased proximity to family may likewise cause additional stress as a result for unresolved family conflicts or differences.
Psychological stress may be related to renewed grief of loneliness associated with the loss of family or friends. Certain memories of the past, both pleasant and unpleasant, are frequently triggered during the holiday season. In addition, if one is confronted with having no plans for the holiday, the feeling arises that “Everyone is having a good time except me.” For others, the holiday season often becomes a time of looking back at the year, reviewing past accomplishments or things that we hoped to accomplish but did not. Some people who await the holidays with high expectations face a big letdown when what they experience does not meet their expectations. These feelings of failure and loss may occur in the young and the old.
Thirdly, biological stress may occur as a result of altered patterns of eating, drinking and sleeping.
So what can we do to minimize the holiday blues and the added stress of the season?
Experts tell us that we won’t be able to escape completely from the normal stresses of everyday living, but a person can keep seasonal pressures to a minimum by keeping holiday plans realistic. Don’t take it upon yourself to do everything. Instead, delegate some of the holiday tasks, such as decorating, cooking and shopping, to others in the household. Most people will probably get more enjoyment from the festivities if they feel they had contributed something to them. Realistic holiday planning also includes making a list of people for whom you plan to buy gifts and then deciding what you can afford to spend. Further disappointments might be resolved by admitting to oneself that family conflicts might not be resolved just because it’s the holiday season.
Most important, don’t forget the true spirit of the season; plan to spend time with the people you love and care for. Extend yourself and seek the companionship of the elderly, the sick or poor by volunteering in your neighborhood senior center, hospital or nursing home. In addition, there are various community support groups which assist people in coping with their feelings during these times. People greatly troubled emotionally should seek professional assistance or contact an emergency stress help line.
Lastly, during these hectic days of the holiday season, remember the take some additional time to care for yourself. What is good health advice the rest of the year is also good advice during the holidays. Take time to find a balance between diet and exercise. Make sure to get a little time for yourself and plenty of rest. Have a happy holiday!
Virginia Markvart, RN, works in the geriatric psychiatry unit at Rush University Medical Center’s Johnston R. Bowman Health Center.