Holidays are a time for coming together with loved ones to celebrate seasonal festivities. And yet, the holidays can be one of the most stressful times of year for many people. Pressure to spend money, time, and energy on things that society deems important can leave you feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and fearful of what may happen if you don’t keep up with the Joneses.
Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” sang Andy Williams originally in 1963. As children, it’s likely that the holidays were a time of excitement, anticipation, wonder, and cookies! Things were so much simpler when you didn’t have to work long hours and worry about being spread thin from the cost of gifts, décor, and travel. You were free from planning the guest list and the menus, and you didn’t have to fret about challenging family dynamics.
Stressors Increase During the Holidays
As adults—both young and seasoned—you’re now aware of all that goes into holiday expectations and the guilt associated with not following through with what society has deemed appropriate. As if life hasn’t become busy enough, you’re now faced with how we’re going to manage everything from our finances to finding extra time to plan, shop and entertain, and the ensuing exhaustion. For some, the holidays may bring up emotions of sadness or loneliness from the loss of a loved one or not having that special someone to share them with. Regardless of your individual stressors there is a percentage of people who would rather pull the covers over their head for two months and sleep through all of the end-of-year celebrations.
According to a 2015 survey conducted by Healthline, a consumer health information site, 62 percent of respondents described their stress level as “very or somewhat” elevated during the holidays, while only 10 percent reported no stress during the season. Three of the biggest holiday stressors are finances, time, and energy. Let’s explore how the effects of stress in these three areas can show up.
Stressor: Money and Finances
It should come as no surprise that money tops the list of holiday stressors. According to a 2012 Holiday Stress Report from the American Psychological Association, stress has a major impact on lower middle class citizens who feel “the weight of stress from work plus the seasonal rush to find time to get everything done. In addition, their worries about money are heightened by the commercialism of the season and the pressure to spend a lot of money.” Commercialism plays a huge role in holiday stress with in-your-face pressure to spend, spend, spend!
The holidays can increase your stress when it comes to your time and how it’s spent. Some people get generous holiday leave from their careers while others find themselves working up to the last minute and having to return again the day after.
Another big consideration is managing the expectations of others when it comes to how you choose to spend your time. Or the expectations may be self-imposed: “I should go see my family but I’d rather sit on my couch and watch all seven seasons of Game of Thrones than travel 2,500 miles.” Or, “I’m supposed to go to the company holiday party but I have no time to shop for a new dress and shoes.”
Stressor: Energy—Mental, Emotional, Physical
Another major player in holiday stress is the mental, emotional, and physical toll it takes on you. The misconception is that you can become drained of your energy. It’s impossible to be depleted of energy. Energy is something you have an endless supply of because it’s what you are made up of, at least from a quantum-physics perspective.
However, you can be mentally scattered and defocused. You can feel emotionally overwhelmed and experience physical exhaustion. Where you are putting your attention is where your energy will flow. If you’re not monitoring where you’re directing your energy, it is possible for you to feel the effects of being pushed and pulled in several directions, giving you the impression that you’re drained of energy.
How to Cope: Find Your Place of Harmony
The biggest favour you can do for yourself and everyone around you is to find your place of harmony in the midst of all that is spiralling around you. Stress can be described as how you respond to life’s obstacles and challenges. Much of the stress you encounter during the holidays (or any other time of year) can be managed effectively by bringing your awareness to your:
- Perception and interpretation of what’s happening
- Highest possible intention or outcome
- Decision about how you are going to proceed
How to Cope: How Are You Perceiving and Interpreting What’s Happening?
Everything you experience is run through your internal filtering system which is where you evaluate or analyse what happened and you try to make sense of it. Your rational mind is always trying to understand, distinguish, and categorise what you experience as good or bad, right or wrong, scary or safe.
With increased awareness, you can consciously begin to shift the way you are choosing to perceive and interpret your experiences. This puts you in a position to see what’s happening through a different lens and let go of your mental and emotional conviction of what you believe is the reality of the situation. For example, “I’m not in a financial position to afford gifts for my family and friends” could be your reality. Looking at from another perspective, however, you may not have extra money this year for gifts but you can still give people the gift of your attention, love, appreciation, and affection.
How to Cope: What Is Your Highest Intention in This Situation?
As you find yourself getting caught up in the melodrama of emotions, the frenzy of “will I get everything done in time?” and the stress of feeling spun out, stop and ask yourself “What is my ultimate highest intention in this situation?” What is it that you want and need to do with your time? Is your intention to have a calm, relaxing, and enjoyable evening with friends? Do you want to move through the situation with effortless ease and grace, while deciding how you will choose to spend your time?
How to Cope: How Do You Want to Proceed?
What do you really want? How would you love for things to turn out? Now it’s time to decide what action you need to take. This can be difficult for some people because it may involve enforcing boundaries with others.
At the end of the day, keep your awareness on your perspective. Stress will always be a part of life, and at the same time, there is always something to be grateful for—whether it be the tray of fudge your mom left in the fridge or the quality time off with close friends and loved ones. If you can find and focus on something you appreciate about the holiday season, you'll be well on your way to managing the stress of the holidays.