Why Are The Holidays So Stressful?
For many people, the holiday season brings a whole host of potential stressors, including, but not limited to:
- Financial stress
- Anxiety around parties and family events
- Difficult family conversations (including political disagreements)
- Anniversaries of loss and/or reminders of grief
- Baking for many (including your in-laws)
- Never ending cleaning
- Hectic shopping
- Pressures of gift giving
- And on and on
It’s no wonder why nearly 1 in 4 people report feeling “extremely stressed” around this time of year, according to a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association. A further breakdown of some of the top sources of holiday stress:
- 69% are stressed by “lack of time”
- 69% are stressed by “lack of money”
- 51% are stressed by the “pressure to give or get gifts”
This time of year is also when some people begin to feel the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which bring their own flavor of anxiety and/or depression. It’s incredibly useful to know that there is one factor that cuts across all of the above holiday stressors. That factor is, how one manages one’s expectations throughout.
Take The Time To Set Reasonable Expectations
Just because you have specific hopes of how things should work out does not mean that is how reality will unfold itself. You have to pay attention to keep unrealistic expectations from getting the better of you. Do this by intentionally setting your expectations. Visualize how you’d like things to go and ask yourself:
- Am I being realistic?
- How long do I expect to be out shopping?
- What’s my budget for food, gifts, holiday decor?
- Do I really expect to change this person’s mind?
Remember what really matters during this time of year. There is a reason why these traditions have lasted so long and it has to do with meaningful connections to the people you care about most. No matter what you’re up against, see if you can make a reasonable plan for how you’d like things to go. And stay flexible with changes and challenges as they present themselves.
Pay Attention to What Your Body Is Telling You
Where in your body are the sensations most pronounced when you are feeling:
When you become aware of your body signaling to you that you’re stressed, you can consult your Wellness Toolbox. The same effective stress reducing techniques that work throughout the year also apply to holiday related stress.
Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD. As an MFT, he specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His areas of expertise include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, fellow psychotherapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to The Couple and Family Clinic Blog.