Many families have had to tighten their budget and realize that they will not be able to give in the manner they would like. For some, this belt tightening offers an opportunity to be creative and thoughtful about their gifts. These individuals and families are able to celebrate the joy of living and the meaning attached to the season. While they may experience stress, it is best characterized as “eustress”—stress that is positive. For them the hustle and bustle of the season is a challenge and they do not become overwhelmed or unhappy. They may be the last minute shoppers who enjoy the crowds and the search for that something special.
Unfortunately, others have a more difficult time adjusting to lean times and experience added stress. For them, the season adds yet another challenge that they are unable to conquer. The added preparation, family conflict, diet temptations, and absent family members during the holiday spirit fuels stress and/or depression. Caregivers are particularly vulnerable to added stress because they are already experiencing overload and the holidays adds yet another responsibility.
Here are some of the concerns that emerge associated with stress or depression during the holiday season:
- I can’t afford to buy my children the toys and presents they want and other children will have
- The family expects me to prepare a lot of food, and I no longer feel like it – it’s someone else’s turn
- I hate to have to leave my home to celebrate with in-laws -- I want to begin my celebration at home
- The holiday season is sad because I am reminded of the death of a loved one
- The season has become so commercial -- I no longer enjoy it
Because of these reasons and many others, some individuals see the holidays as a downer. Some writers differentiate between holiday blues and holiday stress. Holiday blues relates more to a sense of sadness that people who have been important are no longer around. Maybe it’s the empty chair at the dinner table, absence during religious services, or other family traditions. Memories of them during the season create an added sadness. This feeling of sadness for some becomes a downer for the entire season. For them, professional counsel is recommended because it may be more than holiday blues. They may be experiencing clinical depression. Without attention, the stress can ruin the holidays and can have long-term negative effects on the well-being of both the individual and their family.
There are numerous sources of guidance to assist individuals in navigating the holidays and minimizing stress or distress. After reading a number of lists of holiday stress tips, what is clear is that the best strategies involve prevention and proactive steps. For many, the best cure for the stress is to plan for it and make adjustments. Tips such as avoiding perfection, staying within budgets, making schedules, talking about the causes of the feelings of isolation and loss, eating smart, and dieting are common to most lists of stress-free holidays. The problem with most of the stress tips and columns is that they cover a wide range of circumstances. Thus the reader must take care to seek advice that matches their unique circumstances. If the cause of the stress is a family loss, then the advice must focus more of understanding and responding to grief. On the other hand, if the stress is more related to lack of funds, the tips must address the realities of a limited budget and addressing unrealistic expectations head on. If the advice fails to accurately address the source of the stress, it can add to rather than alleviate stress. In conclusion, readers should seek ways to reduce their stress during the holidays and make room for the joy of the season.