Holiday stress occurs when we expect bad things to happen. It is the sense of dread that things will be as bad, or worse, than you imagine them to be. Holiday stress is based on worries that there will be heavy traffic and crowds, people will be rude, or you will have to see people you do not want to see.
Some common worries experienced during the holiday season include the expectation of spending too much money, not having enough money to buy presents, problems organizing family gatherings, and struggles to prepare meals in time. Many of us dread those moments when we are reminded of the loved ones we have lost and will miss this season. We also are worried because we expect the weather to be bad, travel plans to be chaotic, and the atmosphere of family gatherings to be tense.
But expectation is a mind-set. We can have these expectations and fight them, thus creating our stress, or have these expectations and accept them, thus decreasing our stress.
Accepting the possibility of these challenges means facing reality, and doing so can bring relief. Accepting the reality of challenges inherent in the holiday season is key to diminishing stress. Accepting reality is also a sign of mental health. It’s a way to quiet the noise in your head and broaden your perception of your surroundings.
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Learning to adapt to different situations is another sign of mental health. If you expect bad traffic, give yourself extra time to travel.
If your budget is limited, consider sentimental gifts you can make that go a long way: homemade ornaments, a framed picture, pressed leaves from home laminated into a book mark, planting a tree in someone’s honor, or homemade coupons for your spouse (good for a back rub or a home-cooked meal).
If you will be seeing people who you do not want to see, be curious to see if it turns out as difficult as you thought. Curiosity is a healthy replacement for worry or dread. We assume that holidays will be stressful, and that’s fine. But then be curious to see if it comes true. Be curious to see how the holidays unfold regarding what will you see, what food you will eat, what music you will hear, what is new with family members, what strangers you might meet while traveling, etc.
Let’s hope for enjoyment this season and be curious to see if it comes true. After all, hope and curiosity do not disappoint.
Dr. Krista Moe is a licensed psychologist with Baptist Health Psychiatric Specialists Lexington.