Holidays from Hell?

The holiday season is likely the most stressful and most expensive period of the year for most people. Stress, irritability, hopelessness, despondency or depression at this time of year are common and affect a significantly larger segment of the population than at any other time.

The holidays are also quite expensive, it is not unusual to run the tap into the thousands between, travels, shopping, presents and extra food and drinks.

Holidays should provide a meaningful opportunity for you and for the people you care for, it should not be a source of stress. Family and friends are the natural targets of our love and our most likely source of distress; these people are most likely to be around during the holidays and they are likely to bring their best and their worst to Rossini’s crescendo at a specific time frame and location (generally around a table). Be prepared.

Stress is also brought about by the sense of overeating and feeling bloated; we often asked why do we do this to ourselves when we that too much food is not a good idea for the overworking stomach? Food, especially good food is very tempting, resistance is futile; make the best of it, but try to sneak in good, healthy foods which may feel you up without giving your digestive system extra work. Above all, eat slowly, enjoy it! It is a holiday after all, not another day at the rat-race, no time clock today.

The best strategy to cope with the holiday stress is to be prepared. What it means is simply, that you cannot avoid it, like the weather, just be prepared for it. You know a big wave of stress is coming your way (in the form of obligations and expectations), so make sure that you have some fail-safe or back up plans or if the stress cannot be avoided (like family dinners), bring your own parachute and make the best out of it. Think of it as a change of scenery from the routine of another day at work.

Also plan ahead, so what if you buy the present for your brother in October, he will never know it (unless you tell him) and you have checked out another potential source of stress from your list.

Sleep and rest as much as you can; you are probably eating, travelling, spending and socializing much more than you are used to, so it is natural that you will feel tired and fatigued. Take a nap, it is a good habit throughout the year, do not give up good habits during the holidays or postpone their start to the new-year.

Taking a break from the holidays, although it may appear as an oxymoron, it is often a good idea; you’re on holiday too, you will do all the holidays activities anyways, but do not forget to recharge your batteries, you will be more likely to smile afterwards.

One of the big issues we will encounter during the holiday season is when to say “no.” There are millions of reasons why you should go to another dinner, party or social gathering, or why you should buy more stuff. There are going to be very good reasons why you should do things you do not want to do or see people you do not want to see. Be honest with yourself, at times an honest and polite “no, thank you” is the best strategy for all involved.

Finally, think and concentrate on what makes the holiday special for you (not for others). You are into food, you can hardly wait for the sales, you are going on an exciting trip, you like to spend time with the kids or parents, what do you like about the holidays? Keep focussing on what make the holidays special for you (grandma’s roast, the deals you will be able to score this year) and remind yourself of all the positives waiting for you when you will have to put up with the unavoidable negatives that for sure will come your way; uncle Ben spilled wine on your pants, again! “That’s my uncle, but grandma’s cooking is getting better every year.”

Happy Holidays.

Dr. Giorgio Ilacqua