For most of us, stress is hard to avoid, and as we enter the holiday season, stressors increase. We are bombarded with images of happy families, loving couples, and friends gathering, coming together to feast in the season of joy.
Sometimes, though, what’s going on in our lives simply doesn’t match up to our own high ideals and the idyllic portrayals that surround us. The season of joy can easily become a painful experience. Efforts to create happy family occasions can become exhausting, adding stress instead of good cheer.
Unwelcome House Guests
For a great many people, depression and stress can be unwelcome house guests during the holiday hurrah. The demands of family and celebration can quickly trigger old memories and rekindle past conflicts. It’s not always about food fears and the unwanted holiday bulge. Families can be a wonderful source of comfort and support, but the opposite can also be true.
Like everything else, most families experience moments of dysfunction. It’s not uncommon to have old sibling rivalries arise unbidden, triggered by a thoughtless comment. Suddenly, 40-year-olds are acting like 15-year-olds making inappropriate bids for attention, or worse.
Why Does This Happen?emotion that occurred, the way you felt in that particular moment, is also recorded. Also, the smells that surrounded, the sounds that filled the air at the time, the song playing in the background—the minutest details can be easily stored along with the hard, cold facts of the event.
When we recall these old memories, we sometimes also find ourselves feeling the feelings that went along with the original event. This helps explain why remembering old hurts is painful and why recalling some memories is invigorating and makes us feel wonderful.
It isn’t difficult to see how families and friends who share a long history together will also share a mixture of positive and negative memories. When we gather during the holiday season, triggers to these old memories will abound.
So, how can we best prepare ourselves for these gatherings that, for some of us, offer a confusing and mixed bag of possibilities? First of all, just being aware that you are about to enter a season of events and gatherings that will include increased stressors is a great beginning.
Awareness is the first step to understanding. You can decide to let the strong emotions that arise suddenly be a red flag of sorts. Instead of reacting, you can let your thinking mind kick in, and take a quick moment to assess whether what you are feeling belongs in the here and now or comes from the past. Employing this tactic can give you the tiny space needed to take a few deep breaths, level out, and move on.
Other Ideas to Implement
- Pace yourself; don’t spread yourself too thin. If it feels like too much, it probably is. You don’t always have to be the life of the party. Between the office parties and the family gatherings, your schedule can become grueling. Approach everything in moderation. Your body and mind will thank you in the New Year.
- Don’t forget to spend some time on yourself. While taking in the obligatory family dinner may feel overwhelming for some, remember to compensate for your commitments with personal choices that will benefit you. Include visits or contact of any sort with close friends who will be both supportive and nutritious to your spirit. The holiday season is all about celebration and goodwill. You are allowed to spend time on yourself. This is as much your holiday as anyone else’s.
- Let go of obligations. Remember that you are always at choice. Choose wisely and this will support your outcome to have a holiday that you want to remember, not one that you will regret.
- Always go into holiday events with an intention. This will support your efforts to have an outcome that you intend to have.
- Take time after the events to recharge by doing a rewind and recall of what worked and what didn’t, then make adjustments for the next event.
- I recently wrote an article, Helpful and Easy Ways to Reduce Stress, with a number of easy-to-implement suggestions for reducing stress, including diet tips, breathing exercises, and meditation techniques.
In review, make each event count. Check in with yourself. See if there is anything in your awareness that needs attention. Adjust your thoughts and emotions by creating intentions that you wish to have, and avoid reactions that might set you back. Holidays are about giving, loving, receiving, and cheer. Make that your intention regardless of past histories and experiences. My blessings to you for a centered, peaceful, and intentional holiday experience.
Holiday, Anniversary & Memory Triggers (2013). Out of the Fog. Retrieved from http://outofthefog.net/CommonBehaviors/HolidayTriggers.html
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Douglas Mitchell, MFTI, therapist in San Francisco, California
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.