Holidazed and Confused |

4 min read

Clear signs that the season is upon us are shorter days, cooler temperatures, and frequent requests to my employee assistance program to provide training on managing year-end stress. After decades in the mental health field, I still find the concept of holiday stress as confounding as the lingering allure of fruit cakes.

A Google search of the term “holiday stress” returns 289,000,000 results. This suggests that along with gift-giving, caroling, and office parties, most Americans have stressed out on their year-end to-do list.

Here’s a quick self-test to see if you are one of those who have developed a “wake me up when it’s over” mentality when it comes to this time of year:

You’ve decided to put your sanity on layaway.

You’ve asked your doctor to write you a note excusing you from the season.

You’ve been told that you’re humming Christmas tunes in your sleep.

You realize that last year’s New Year’s resolution to stop making resolutions went unresolved.

You considered requiring DNA confirmation of family ties before the next family gathering.

While attempting to escape the crowds by shopping online you download a virus that crashes your system thus putting a new computer on the top of your wish list.

That the season has become synonymous with stress speaks to how we can turn even the most pleasurable activities into something undesirable. However, we must be careful not to add self-blame and shame to our year-end list and understand some basic facts about why we stress out during this time of the year. First, it doesn’t help that the yule is during the depths of winter—winter blues and seasonal affective disorder are real and can turn the most joyful spirit into a Scrooge. Second, there is the pressure of the Four Fs of the season that create the perfect stress storm; family, finances, food, and fun (the last being the pressure to be in good cheer even if one is not up to the task). Finally, there is the psychological regifting phenomenon that is ironic rebound—the attempts to ensure that one enjoys the season, thus making it a chore, results in it being just another task on an already overloaded plate.

To unwrap this stress and rediscover the joy we may only have vague memories of from our childhood, we need only practice a few stress-busting techniques:

Avoid the expectation trap of predetermining that this time of year comes with stress already attached—this is the unfortunate gift we keep giving ourselves.

Get in touch with your inner Grinch—accepting that we may not be up to being merry and bright helps to ease the pressure and feeling like we let ourselves and others down.

Accept that old traditions can be both adjusted and dropped—trying to revive the ghosts of the holiday past can create unnecessary frustration. If family functions are loaded with dysfunction, consider planning a getaway where you treat yourself to silent nights.

Forget about New Year’s resolutions and consider a New Year’s revelation; see the truth behind setting oneself up for disappointment by thinking that simply because the calendar flips over to a new year, a new you is within reach. It’s very likely that there is nothing wrong with the old you and embracing that self can be the gift that keeps giving.

To celebrate the season and take the stress monster head on, I’ve written a stressmas carol that all are welcome to add to the year-end hymnal:

Jangled Nerves (song to the tune of Jingle Bells)

Jangled nerves, jangled nerves

Jangled all the day

Oh how sad it is to spend

Our holiday time this way

Dashing through the malls

With a cart that’s gone astray

Back to the bank, we go

Crying all the way

Bells on registers ring

Making spirits sigh

Oh, what bills the mailman brings!

Why is my interest rate so high?

Jangled nerves, jangled nerves

Jangled all the day

Oh how sad it is to spend

Our holiday time this way

A day or two ago

I felt my chest grow tight

And very soon I found myself

Pacing through the night

I tried to get some sleep

But the fears they would not go

I knew I’d fallen deep

And never felt so low

Oh! Jangled nerves, jangled nerves

Jangled all the day

Oh how sad it is to spend

Our holiday time this way

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