Self, Health And Wellness

7 Ways To Make The Holidays More Fun (& Less Stressful)

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How To Deal With Holiday Stress & Depression

Despite it being the "most wonderful time of the year", there's a darker side of the holidays that people don't like to talk about: holiday-related stress and depression, also called the "holiday blues".

The idea of coming together joyfully to celebrate Christmas with your family sounds good on the surface — but all too often, things start feeling hectic and rushed, which is why learning how to deal with holiday stress and depression can help you keep the season feeling joyous — like it's meant to be.

Are you having trouble finding that "holiday spirit" in your Christmas activities? Does that delightful hustle and bustle of getting ready feel more like fighting grumpy crowds? Are you plagued by ear-worms from all those holly-jolly Christmas songs piped into all the stores you visit, and the idea of the day of celebration just fills you with stress and dread?

You’re not alone.

The 2018 winter holidays have turned into a nightmare for some. The pressure of finding the "right" gift for people, the expectation of the holiday board heavy laden with mouthwatering food (that you may have to prepare), and most of all, that expectation of feeling joyous, when all you really feel is stress and anxiety.

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Dealing with stress is basically part of the holiday tradition. There are some sobering truths that many people have to deal with, starting with high expectations and ending in family chaos.

You want to be in the mood. You’d like to have only good feelings about "the best time of the year." For some reason, your efforts to feel that way aren’t succeeding, and you're struggling to figure out how to cope with stress and pressure from all around you.

Funny thing about emotions: You never get them by trying to have them. In fact, the more you fight a feeling, the stronger it gets. You don’t want to act it out — you already know that makes it worse and doesn't help one bit in managing stress you already have.

And in order to properly exercise your stress management, emotions need to be expressed in some way. So if you’re feeling grumpy during the holiday season, where are you going to put it? (Nobody wants to be a Scrooge.) Chances are, you put on a good face and hope the nastiness will pass. But then it goes into a reservoir inside you and starts to sour.

Part of the difficulty around the holidays is that there’s always someone telling you what to feel, and you're often ignoring the real ways of how to manage stress in the hopes it will just go away. That’s bad enough for the rest of the year — telling someone what they "should" feel is a veiled attack — and now it’s all around you. That can end up taking you from aggravation to full-blown rage.

Then there’s the pressure of figuring out how to please everyone on your list. Oy Veh! Kids, of course, are pretty easy. They’ll accept toys. Older ones are happy with money. But those grown kids! And in-laws! Most of them (these days) already have everything they need.

And the family and friend gatherings! You want everyone to have a good time. You picture the Norman Rockwell image of smiling parents and children and maybe even a Ho-Ho-ing Santa. In this image, no one has issues with one another. All the parents and all the children — and the rest of your holiday crowd — only feel love and gratitude for one another.

If this is your family, be sure to count your blessings.

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All too often, the winter holidays are the one time of the year that everyone tries to get together. Never mind that Uncle Joe and Cousin Margaret aren’t on speaking terms. It’s the holidays! All conflicts are supposed to disappear.

Put together a group of people who have struggled with each others’ boundaries much of their lives, add unreasonable expectations, season with a little "holiday cheer" in the form of alcohol or other mood-altering substances, and what do you get? You’re lucky if you don’t get a riot.

Here are 7 simple tips for how to deal with holiday stress and depression so you can make this 2018 Christmas season more fun!

1. Begin by letting yourself feel what you feel.

Reducing stress can be as simple as expressing the way you feel to people who will listen. Find some like-minded people to grump with. Put it into words; this will ease the impulse to put it into action. Remember that, despite appearances, you are not alone. There are ways to deal with stress that will also help you feel camaraderie!

2. Don't put your expectations too high.

Remember that overly high expectations usually lead to disappointment. Adjust your expectations. A LOT of people have difficult family histories, and one way to cope with stress is simply to understand that you might be putting too much pressure on yourself.

These problems are not going to go away magically just because of a holiday. If past gatherings with family have been difficult for you, change your outlook. Instead of doing the same thing over and over, try going in with curiosity about the family.

Who are these people, anyway? Plan to gather information, rather than expecting some kind of solution. The best way of how to handle stress at this time? Don't lay the expectation all on you!

3. Don’t sweat the presents.

If you please one-third of the people you’re gifting, you’re doing well. For people who "have everything" and have not helped you by making a wish list, give them something nice that they can easily exchange.

If you’re a crafter, make a little something. It might look stupid, but it says very clearly, "I thought about you for more than ten minutes." Some of the ways to manage stress around gift-giving are to not make yourself feel bad for trying to give gifts in the first place.

4. Don't push yourself.

Decide for yourself how much "holiday cheer" you can take.

You can beg off some parties. You can decide to "go small" this year. I’m familiar with one family who made a tradition of getting together the day after the official holiday, to get under the radar of the universal unconscious expectations of the day.

How to reduce stress at this time of year is up to you. Don't agree to things you know you're not up to.

5. Limit your holiday "spirits".

Also, on the subject of "holiday cheer", either don’t partake or keep your use to a bare minimum. Alcohol can artificially relax you and also loosen your tongue. If Uncle Henry and Uncle Edward get sloshed and have a go at each other, you don’t have to get involved.

7. Take care of yourself.

Too much activity, too much "cheer," too much heavy food and sugar will leave you feeling awful. No matter what others are doing, remember that you have to live with yourself the next day, the next week, the next year…

And … have happy-ish 2018 holidays!

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Cheryl Gerson is a licensed clinical social worker and board-certified diplomate, specializing in relationships, who has been in private practice in New York City for over 25 years. Call her for an in-depth conversation about the right treatment for you.