|Staying Sane During the Holiday Season|
|By Caterina Spinaris|
The colorful holiday season is supposed to be a time of fun, love and joy around family and friends, and for some, also a time of spiritual reflection. Yet, there might be some downsides to this time of year, in spite of the touted “holiday cheer.” This article is about identifying some of the factors that may try to creep in and steal the true joy of the season, and suggesting ways to reduce or avoid avoidable stress associated with the holidays.
So what can happen from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day? Words like overstimulation, overindulgence, and overdrive may capture the average picture. We may find ourselves on the go nonstop, overeating, overdrinking, and overspending, not wanting to miss out on any of the fun. Weighed down with buyer’s remorse, some of us might start the New Year exhausted and frazzled, and staring a pile of holiday debt in the face.
One of the culprits may be the seemingly obligatory gift giving. There is this pressure floating around, this expectation, that we must prove our love to significant others through the purchase of “the” perfect gifts for them. Parents and others may compete as to who will spend more on a child or on someone else, as if number of dollars spent is the gauge of sincere love and devotion.
Along the same lines, we may feel obligated to buy gifts for just about every person we know, so no one feels left out. So we might buy “stuff” we don’t necessarily even like to give to someone we may not even really like, because this is the thing to do during the holidays. And regarding this compulsory gift buying, we might not really care what we buy, as long as it fits our budget, and helps us cross that person off our shopping list. Gift bought for ___? Check. That can end up being a lot of pressure.
This not-so-subtle competition can spread to who has the prettiest Christmas lights, who has the tallest and most elegant Christmas tree, who has the most guests show up to their Christmas party, who… who … who … to no apparent end.
Another culprit may be the sheer volume of activities associated with the holiday season, causing essential down time and other “me” time to get pushed aside in order to meet children’s, employers’, friends’ and relatives’ expectations, by attending numerous events. And on top of that, we may also host a party, with all the expense and preparation this requires, the energy it takes, and the clean-up that follows. Why have all these gatherings bunched up during a few weeks of the year instead of spreading them out throughout the year?
A third factor that saps energy during the holiday season can be the extended family gatherings on “the” special days. Oftentimes, these are not the easiest to pull off. There can be tension and even outright verbal clashes regarding whose house we go to for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, or whose house we visit first from among key relatives when we make our rounds on these holidays.
Hurt feelings, pouting, complaints and guilt trips by dissatisfied relatives can rob us of the joy of the holiday season.
Moreover, spending time with family members one tends to avoid the rest of the year can cause old conflicts to resurface. Such pressures, not so subtle competition among relatives for others’ affection, and overt conflict among (at times) inebriated guests has led a friend of mine to declare that the holiday season is the “Olympics of dysfunctional families.”
How might a season of celebration end up becoming a season of overindulgence, overstimulation, buyer’s remorse, exhaustion, the dreaded weight gain, and even the “blues?”
I think that part of the reason is that, somehow, we’ve been led to believe that the holiday season with its opportunities for indulgence on many levels will bring us the perfect emotional state, the perfect gift, the perfect meal, the perfect gathering, THE perfect whatever. High expectations for satisfaction and happiness abound. And such unrealistic expectations are most likely going to lead to disappointment when they do not come to pass like we thought they would, or evaporate after the novelty of a present or excitement of an event—no matter how special—wears off. The fantasy bubble of holiday happiness bursts, followed by the day of reckoning, when the credit card statement hits our mailbox or our inbox.
The drive for the high of indulgence is masterfully fueled by retailers’ bombardment with “holiday specials,” bargains and sales. We don’t want to miss out on a good deal. So we buy. The shopping frenzy says a lot about what we consider to be important, what we think we cannot do without (the latest, biggest, best, 33% more), and the degree to which we may be susceptible to this special form of “peer pressure.”
So here are some suggestions for staying sane during the holiday season stampede.
Regarding gift buying
These are just some suggestions about ways to avoid “holiday fatigue.” You may have already figured out some that work for you. If you’d like, email your thoughts to me.
Wishing you all a safe and sane holiday season, reflecting on this special time, enjoying your loved ones, reaching out to those in need, and counting your blessings!
This article as been reprinted with permission from the November 2016 Issue of Correctional Oasis, a publication of "Desert Waters Correctional Outreach".
Editor's note: Caterina Spinaris is the Executive Director at Desert Waters Correctional Outreach and a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Colorado. She continues to contribute to the field of corrections staff well-being individually and organizationally, in particularly regarding issues of traumatic stress due to exposure to violence, injury, death on the job, and also issues of organizational climate improvement.
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