Health and Wellness, Life

When the holidays are too much to emotionally handle

In case you hadn’t noticed, we have officially reduced Thanksgiving to an extended lunch break in the middle of what is now a two month shopping spree! I’m being a little salty, yes, but I feel like Christmas is creeping earlier and earlier each year. It’s now normal to put your tree up the day after Halloween??

Part of why I’m resistant to the Christmas creep is that the holidays (November 1 – December 31, but especially Christmas) is the worst time of year for me from a mental health standpoint. It’s not that I don’t love the holidays and time off and the cheer and music, I just find it to be extraordinarily stressful. I sense that I’m not alone in this because the internet has some great memes about this exact thing…

To back up my Grinchy feelings with science, I found this article from Harvard Medical School that cites that if you share my holiday stress, you are not alone. In a survey from a few years ago (2015), 62% of participants described their stress levels as “very or somewhat” elevated during the holiday season. Stress can be related to all sorts of individual circumstances, but many are directly related to a lack of time, lack of money and related to that – the feeling that they must exchange gifts with others, as well as the interpersonal dynamics of getting together with extended family, among other reasons.

This post is NOT meant to bash Christmas and Thanksgiving and the other holidays that traditionally take place this time of year. Rather I’m admitting that I have a really difficult time this time of year and striving to take intentional steps to get through it as best as I can.

I’ve decided that the easiest way to break down this seasonal challenge I’m facing is by writing lists. If I want to make November and December less rocky, I need to figure out a few things: What my problem is with this time of year, what is out of my control and how I react / what I can control in those situations.

List #1: Why I find the holiday season stressful

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay
  1. I am trying to eat a healthy and balanced diet and there are TREATS EVERYWHERE. The absolutely ridiculous amount of sugary treats that surround me from Halloween through Christmas is out of hand. I am not the best at willpower, so being around all the sweets is really difficult.
  2. I like socializing, but not like, this much… I am overwhelmed by the constant social gatherings that take place between November and December. We typically have about 8-10 gatherings between Thanksgiving – New Year’s Eve between friends, family, work. For someone who has firm boundaries on how much socializing I can handle, these two months drain. me. out.
  3. I’m a potato for most of December. Related to the eating healthy thing – all of the time commitments and treats really demotivate me from being active. This is the exact time of year when I should be diligently exercising to keep my endorphins flowing and counter the inevitable cookie indulging, it is often the first thing I quit when I feel overwhelmed. It may be counter-intuitive, but it’s true.
  4. Gift buying is making me go broke. I am finally getting better at setting boundaries with this, but I used to feel obligated to buy everyone gifts – coworkers, friends, family, etc. It got out of hand financially REALLY quickly. Luckily now we’ve reached formal no gift arrangements at work and with some friends who we really, honestly, don’t need to swap gifts with. Just spending time together and letting them know we appreciate them is enough.
  5. Specific to 2019 – we are moving in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I know it will be fine and it’ll all work out and the tree will get set up and we won’t forget to buy chairs or some other bizarre scenario that fills my stress nightmares, but I’m not looking forward to getting back from a week on the road for Thanksgiving to spending the two weeks leading up to Christmas cleaning and setting up a new house and cleaning and moving out of our apartment.

List #2: Things I can’t control during the holidays

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
  1. The number of social gatherings that are obligatory to attend.
  2. The tempting treats that will be at said social gatherings and in my office for the next 90 days (yes, people over bake and freeze treats and then roll them into the office through the end of January).
  3. The rude comments that people inevitably make at social gatherings. It’s been the “when are you getting married?” and “when are you buying a house?” stuff for years – I assume that this year it will go straight to “when are you having kids?”.
  4. The unsolicited gifts that people choose to give us even when we explicitly arranged to not give gifts.
  5. The weather and the fact that it feels like it is dark and snowy and terrible for the entire month of December.
  6. MOVING! The fact that we are moving two weeks before Christmas.

List #3: Things I can control (and my mindset toward them) during the holidays.

  • How long I stay at social gatherings that we attend – sometimes just making an appearance and staying for a short while is perfectly acceptable. Know your limits.
  • What I eat! Even if there are temptations everywhere and it’s REALLY ANNOYING, I’m responsible for what I eat and I’m committing to tracking everything I eat through the New Year.
  • My reaction to rude comments. I will try really hard not to freak out if people are rude. If I know that it’s coming, I can anticipate and hopefully respond better in the moment.
  • How much money I spend on gifts and having intentional conversations with friends that I DON’T want to swap gifts with in advance.
  • My activity levels and my mental health – I plan to still stay just as active (5+ days a week of activity) through the holiday season and to continue talking to a counselor AND picking back up my meditation habit. I need to make sure that I’m practicing yoga, as well, as often as I can between now and the end of the year. I drag my feet about going sometimes, but I NEVER leave a yoga class and say “well that was a waste and I feel worse than I did before I got here”.
  • I will choose to take a deep breath and be GRATEFUL that we found our dream house and that we are fortunate enough to be in our new home and host my parents in our new home for our first Christmas there. It may be a pain to move so close to Christmas, but I’m so thankful we found our new home.

Just writing out those three lists already is making me feel like I have more control over how I feel this holiday season. If you are someone else who finds the holidays stressful, please know that you are not alone. Maybe this list writing strategy will help you to manage your challenges, determine where you do have control and to identify habits and techniques that calm you and bring you joy – even in a stressful time.

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