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Handling Holiday Stress

By Richard Juman, PsyD, Director of Behavioral Health Policy and Regulations and Co-Chair, Clinician Resiliency Core Group, TeamHealth

For many Americans, the holiday season is indeed the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the time when we’re most likely to connect, to engage in religious or spiritual practices, to watch those favorite old holiday movies, to enjoy the special meals and to experience the joy in children’s faces as they open their holiday gifts. But for many, holiday stress can be overwhelming.

Identifying Holiday Stressors

Even among those for whom the holidays are a precious time, multiple stressors can interfere the festivities. It can be an expensive season, as the costs of travel, gifts, food and other unusual expenses strain budgets. This year, the process of travel itself is likely to feature all of the usual holiday frenzy, but with the additional steps and burdens imposed by the lingering pandemic. All of this will precede the actual holiday gatherings with friends and families, which in addition to the potential for conflict, will also feature some degree of concern around COVID-19 safety.

Let’s also remember that for some people, the holidays are a particularly difficult time. In a recent conversation with the Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, I noted that during 2020 the suicide rate actually declined. When asked to explain, he noted that “suicide is a disease of comparison.” In 2020, most people were suffering in some way, and solidarity across the entire culture likely helped lower the suicide rate. As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, let’s keep in mind that this may be a particularly lonely, stressful time for some of our friends, neighbors and colleagues.

Tips for Handling Holiday Stress

Whatever your attitude, approach and plans are for the holidays, here are a few suggestions to ensure a pleasant season.

Set realistic expectations for yourself and others

Who doesn’t look forward to the “perfect” holiday? Let’s do what we can, within reason, to bring this picture to fruition. Yet, let’s also recognize that most families, most recipes, most gatherings and most traditions can be complicated ones to pull off perfectly. Be prepared to “go with the flow” and to focus on what counts – fostering an environment of goodwill and tolerance.

Ask for help if you need it

Recognizing that we need help is a sign of strength and reflects a realistic self-awareness of our situation and our needs. In contrast, refusing to admit we need help and refusing to ask for it are good ways to overwhelm ourselves. Far better to recognize our limitations and reach out for assistance.

Make sure you continue your self-care practices

I remember reading an interview with a high-powered CEO who stated: “I normally meditate for an hour a day, but when I’m especially busy I meditate for two hours.” Sounds counterintuitive, right? But when we’re at our busiest and most stressed, our wellness practices become more important. Don’t let the busy season deprive you of the exercise, sleep, healthy eating, breathing, yoga or meditation practices that have helped you maintain your emotional equilibrium throughout the year.

Prioritize connecting with others

For most people, emotional connectivity is the hallmark of holiday spirit. If you find yourself surrounded by loving family this year, embrace the opportunity to strengthen those connections. If not, find ways to make those emotional connections. Reach out to old friends, volunteer to spend time with the less fortunate or find some other ways to connect with others.

Stay away from contentious issues

It’s safe to say that we’re in a moment characterized by intense polarization. You can spend the holiday trying to convince your uncle of your opinions, or you can spend it reminiscing about the summer you spent on his farm helping out with the baby goats. The choice is yours!

Please take good care of yourself during the upcoming holidays. For more tips and stories from TeamHealth, subscribe to our blog.