Alt title: How to Survive the Holiday Season*
Depending on your past holiday experiences, your current mind-set, and other more fundamental beliefs, “Here come the Holidays!” can sound like anything from a cheerful proclamation of the advent of several holy/commercial events to the whispered omen of the seemingly innocent and socially disconnected flickering child dressed all in white right before things go wrong in a Steven King book. The holiday season often plays out like a tumultuous roller-coaster which leaves us giddy with saratonin and Santa one moment and then crashing with cortisol and a million inward and negative feelings the next. While responsibility for conquering this annual themepark ultimately rests on the affected individual, here I will try to examine some of the reasons for our recurring malaise as well as some general stress-reducing mechanisms that might help.
Why do we ride the roller-coaster?
This question is going to be differently answered by everyone, but while the answers will vary, it is still instructive to determine what constitutes the ups and downs of your personal roller-coaster. To help you along your way, I have started to compile a list of some Holiday Highs and Lows:
Highs: Friends, family, ceremony, good times for the imaginative and story-tellers alike, tradition, shiney!, songs, snow angels/people/ball-fights, vacation, presents, etc.
Lows: Bills, expectations, weather, excessive family committments, not enough family committements, news, other media, seeing ideal families advertised everywhere while recognising our own individual family realities, sad things that have happened previously around the holidays (break-ups, deaths, etc.), lonliness, etc.
Your actual list may seem longer, shorter, filled with similar content, or totally divergent. This is normal. The important thing is that you were able to identify what we will call your “Holiday Highs” and your “Holiday Stressors” (the Lows).
Stress Reduction Tips
Frequently holiday stress comes as a result of not just one, but a combination of stressors coming together and overwhelming us all at a go. We begin to feel helpless and unable to tackle all of these individual stressors and we frequently haven’t even identified them in the first place. Which leads us to…
1. Identify your “Holiday Stressors” (You already did this! Whoo-Hoo!)
The simple act of determining not just that you are stressed, but breaking down why is one of the first steps necessary if we are to win this seasonal war on the blues. While this can occasionally be a gargantuan task, it isn’t insurmountable, and doing so helps us to see this (perspective is often key!). And having having this list allows us to effectively…
This step can be viewed either as a recommendation to make lists planning how to whittle down our Holiday Stressors or as a more general recommendation to step back and assess our goals, priorities, and means available to achieve our Holiday Highs while minimising our Holiday Stressors. (eg. I frequently find many of my stressors to be existential. Why am I here? What is motivating us to believe that our rush towards commercial one-ups-manship is important/useful/necessary? What does the insanity witnessed throughout this season mean? Etc… – While there may be no universal answers to these questions, a plan to combat these concerns could range from accepting religion, philosophy, or blind industry to isolating oneself to get away from the influence of “it all”.)
3. Follow through with your plan while remaining conscious of and avoiding or confronting other Holiday Stressors along the way.
For the sake of simplicity, I will say (as any good reductionist might) that our plans are most likely all to seek happiness while minimising varying forms of sadness or pain along the way. With this in mind, it is good that we have already determined our own definitions of happiness (Highs) and sadness/pain (Lows) so as to guide our execution. Often, realistically, we find that it is not possible to avoid all the Lows, but the fact that they are no longer amorphous and un-numbered allows us to feel more in control and subsequently less stressed (Knowledge is Power!).
Perhaps it is also pertinent here to point out that the most frequented paths are not the best for everyone. Some may wish to and succeed in avoiding stress by playing down the commercial side of the holidays and focusing more closely on interactions with family and/or friends. Others might start a project or volunteer to lend a sense of purpose to what might otherwise seem like a mad scrambling season.
Often, it really is that simple. The sooner we can use processes like this to rid ourselves of unrealistic societal expectations, the sooner we can begin enjoying the holidays like we do anything else. On our own terms and as individuals.
While none of these are cure-alls, the following is a short list of some fun Holiday High things that don’t take too much money. :)
-walk in a park/play in the snow (depending on the weather), let your creative-side go wild (draw, learn a craft/instrument, read), set a goal (physical, mental, other?) and work to attain it, volunteer, start a Peace Corps application, go to a museum, learn some local history, etc.
“He’d make a plan and he’d follow through, that’s what Brian Boitano’d do!”
-South Park; Bigger, Longer & Uncut
Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave other Holiday suggestions in the comments.
Also mad props to Kelsey Pince who wrote 50,000 words again this year in under 30 days. This post has my word count at about 900, and I’m feel particularly accomplished about it!
*If you are someone that loves every minute of the Holidays and doesn’t experience any seasonal stress on their behalf, congrats. You probably don’t need to read this. :)