Stress in the Holiday Season
“Holiday Blues” is not just a phrase describing the grinches, grumps, and scrooges of the world. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (2015), it also describes about 64 percent of Americans. The increased challenges that we face during the holidays can make someone want to skip celebrations altogether—and that’s during a normal year! As we all know, 2020 has been anything but normal. This lack of normalcy adds additional stress. The constant state of 2020 flux has left many feeling overwhelmed and unsure. If you are finding yourself with a case of the “holiday blues” (overwhelmed by the holidays and lacking the familiar “holiday spirit” you’re supposed to have for it), here are a few tips that might help:
Take a step back. Look at what you are taking on. I frequently ask my clients about responsibilities with the metaphor of “Whose plate are you eating off of?” If you’re eating off others’ plates, you are taking responsibility for things beyond your control. You are taking on the burdens of others that aren’t appropriate for you to take. You are trying to control another person’s emotions, logic, behavior, or reactions. This behavior will leave you stuffed full of others’ responsibilities and unable to finish your own. This becomes a significant issue considering the fact that most of us already have full plates. Your own plate is full of your responsibilities, your reactions, emotions, logic, and behaviors. It’s healthy for you to eat from your own plate, but not healthy to eat from the plates of others. You won’t regret only eating from your own plate this holiday season. Let others eat from theirs.
Address your stress, plan and regroup. If you’re eating off only your own plate and it’s still overwhelming, take a second to look at what you have going on. Figure out the area the stress is in. For example, most people feel financial, relational, or time constraint-related stress around these holidays.
If it’s a financial issue, let yourself take a hard look at your budget. It’s scary to check the credit card bill, but it’s worth it to know where you are really at. When you know where you stand, your brain can start focusing on solving problems rather than catastrophizing and making the problems worse than they are. You also avoid the mentality that you can sweep it under the rug and deal with it later, which can drastically increase stress. Knowing where you stand will help you see if there’s ways to save or pare back. This is not only helping the current you– it’s saving the future you from a bigger burden. If there isn’t any wiggle room, consider asking for help in small and reasonable ways. Perhaps, for example, if you are hosting a holiday meal you can ask your guests to each bring a side dish to share. Ask family if you can all agree on a smaller budget this year. Shop with coupons. When you save money, you’re buying the future you some relief.
If it’s a schedule or time issue, ask yourself if your expectations of your time commitments are reasonable, and see if there’s anything you can pare back. In addition, carve out some time for you to just be you, and don’t schedule everything out until bedtime. Fatigue is a common symptom of the “holiday blues,” so make sure you’re not taking too much on. It is okay to say “no.” Healthy people draw boundaries on their time to prevent burnout. Give yourself some time to breathe. Do things you enjoy. Make time for your family. Take care of your body.
If the stress is relational, check whose plate you’re eating off of. If you’re not eating off others’ plates, ask yourself what the core issue is. Typically, it’s a sense of obligation to keep the holidays as memorable as possible, or it’s a concern that you may or may not see that certain family member. If you’re feeling obligated to make the holidays extremely special and you’re concerned it won’t turn out the way you want it to, you’re still eating off the wrong plate. You can have a good attitude and do all the right things, and it still won’t work out unless other factors perfectly align. Plus, we are bombarded with ads and media that tell us to be extremely happy all the time, which just isn’t realistic. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re cringing at Mariah Carey’s extra-festive version of “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Try your best, but don’t blame yourself for the entire outcome.
If your concern is that you will miss a family member or friend, reach out to that person and spend quality time with him/her. We won’t get to see everyone we want to due to the virus, but a Zoom coffee date is better than nothing and the gesture goes a long way. My long-distance family particularly likes getting on the phone together and playing an app-based version of our favorite games together.
If your concern is that you will see a certain person who is difficult for you to be around, figure out the core issue. Usually it’s past relational wounding or a sense that the person is extremely critical of you. The past wounds take time and care to heal, and in some extreme cases (e.g. abuse) it’s not appropriate to be around that person. Ask if you are safe to be around that person, considering your own background with him/her. If you are but it’s uncomfortable, seek steps toward healing. Seek the Lord in prayer for wisdom, peace, discernment, and forgiveness. If you have been eating off that other person’s plate, ask the Lord for strength to focus on your own plate. Be willing to hear His honest thoughts about you and your actions in this difficult relationship.
If it seems the person is always extremely critical of you, check to make sure that you’re not just assuming this of them. Often if they are sometimes critical, it’s easy to say they’re always critical. Don’t put extra food on their plates that doesn’t belong there. Forgive them and ask the Lord for the continued ability to do so. Ask for a heart of love and ask Him for help getting rid of defensiveness. In addition, if they really are critical all the time, go back to your own plate and don’t add their emotions, behaviors, and reactions to it. When you start to believe lies about yourself (e.g. “I am not good enough,” or “I’m worthless”) refute them. Try to take notice when something they have said has burrowed into your mind and do something that helps you process. Talk it out loud to yourself, journal, or talk to a trusted individual (but don’t throw the person you’re talking about under the bus or gossip about the person). Do something to process all the way through the critical remarks. Once you have some perspective, try talking it out with the person you are having conflict with. Use “I feel” statements rather than blame statements (e.g. “When you said this, I felt worthless” rather than “You make me feel worthless”). This 3 gives direction to the conversation and doesn’t come off defensive, which allows the other person some ability to move forward in the conversation.
Regardless of the type of relational difficulty, make sure you are above reproach and kill the person with kindness (Romans 12:17-21). Pretend you’re always on video tape with that person, and make sure that if you rewound the tape and played it back that you would stand by your actions. Take on the heart of a servant, because ultimately you serve King Jesus and not this person (Matthew 25:40). He will see you actively loving, and that’s what matters.
Remember the plate analogy. Allow yourself to take a step back from all the craziness for some perspective. Don’t overextend yourself. Increased stress, depression, anxiety, and tension are all normal during this time. Let yourself address issues as they come up. Take care of yourself and have good boundaries. The holiday season is temporary, and we will get through 2020 soon.
Everyone has concerns related to thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and patterns that we want to work through, and mental health challenges such as these can be very normal in our day-to-day lives. If you would like to learn more about adult mental health or would like more resources, Grace Covenant is planning to have a webinar via a Zoom session on December 8th from 7:00 pm to 8:15 pm that will address mental health basics, COVID-19 related content, and some practical takeaways that might be of use to you. We will also have a time dedicated to your mental health questions. If you are interested in this, please email Taylor Burdick at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at (970) 680-3099. You can also invite others to join.
If you feel your level of stress, depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns cause you to need help, you can find a list of counselors and other qualified professionals in your area here: www.psychologytoday.com. You can also call the Jefferson Center for Mental Health at (303) 425-0300. If you are in crisis and need to talk to someone, call the Colorado Crisis Hotline at 1-844-493-8255 or text “Talk” to 38255. You can also visit www.nami.org/holidayblues for some helpful resources on holiday blues.