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Holiday Stress (part 1)

Well, we made it - It's once again November, and here starts the beginning of the holiday season. Over the next 60 days, we will have numerous interactions with family members, have (at least) 2 family gatherings, 2 elaborate meals, and will likely spend more money (and time) at the mall and online shopping than we care to admit...

This is the time of the year where stress begins to wear us down, and a time where our mental wellness often takes a backseat to the demands of the season. Most clients who I have worked with have shared a common experience - "the holidays are draining".

SO, this leads me to a couple thoughts. Why are the holidays so stressful? What can I do about it? And why is it that some people manage the holidays better than others?

I will do my best to answer some of these questions over the coming weeks. My goal is to provide some insight, and give my readers some useful information.

As always, this information is not intended to constitute a therapeutic relationship or advice, nor should it replace in-person therapy. I welcome those interested to contact me for additional support and guidance.

Why Are The Holidays So Stressful??

This is a difficult question to answer concisely, but lets first start by exploring 2 commons areas of stress - Internal and External stress.

Often when exploring external stressors, we must first look at the culture, society, and community of the individual. One quick glance at the television commercials that start airing this time of year will give us insight to some of these societal pressures. Money, toys, gifts, beauty, wealth, status, and power are just some of the themes that seemingly play on repeat for the next 60 days. The advertisers also use a very clever trick that is sometimes subtle (sometime not so much), they often pair their tangible good to an emotion (happiness or safety), and portray the smiling couple that is watching their child play happily with the newest toy, or the attractive couple driving through the city in the newest (shiny) luxury car (that can be yours for the low, low price of ALL THE MONIES) . I mean, who doesn't want to be happy or safe!

This is just one of many forms of external stress that we experience during the holidays. To add to this we also have demands from people closest to us. Family, friends, coworkers, parties, parties, parties, dinner, dinner, gifts, guilt, shame, emptiness...

The real difficulty (and some may even argue the ultimate goal of the aforementioned advertisements), is when these external (extrinsic) stressors make that slow shift to an internal (intrinsic) pressure. When the message on the TV changes from "you, you, you..." - to a voice in your own head saying "I, I, I..." When hours later you are still thinking about that item, that emotion, and how "I need to give that to my spouse so they are happy."

Now the shift has occurred, the stress is now internal, and unfortunately this is where I see too many struggle with the mounting stress of the holidays. A pressure that appears to come from outside and within the individual - and every year seems to be further reinforced. Our thoughts begin to work against us - negative messages about ourselves, our abilities, our value, and our future appear to pop up, and at times may overwhelm us.

Now, this is not the case for everyone, and even though the above mentioned pressures still exist, there seems to be a resilience against the holiday stress. If this is you, I applaud you, and I will examine why this is in an upcoming post.

I will also note, that I am not advocating against gift-giving or holiday celebrations. I too will engage in everything mentioned. But approach is everything, meaning is everything, and kindness to one's own self is everything. What if we were able to protect ourselves from that shift, the shift from external to internal pressure?

[to be continued]

~ Dr. Miles

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