The Holidays: A time of Joy, Peace, and Love…. So why do I feel so stressed?

Tips for handling holiday stress and grief

By: Audra Mrini MA, NCC, Resident in Counseling

holiday stress

It’s that time of year again.  Halloween has only just passed and we are already bombarded with advertisements and displays announcing that the holidays are just around the corner.  This is supposed to be exciting right?  We get to spend time with our families, give and receive gifts, eat good food.  What could possibly be wrong with that?

Unfortunately, the holidays bring with them a wealth of stress symptoms and grief for many.

What are the sources of stress and grief?

This time of year often reminds us of those we have lost and are missing.  Those feelings of sadness come again even if we thought we had “gotten over them.”  For many, there can be ongoing family conflicts and wounds that have not yet healed.  There is the concern that when we are around family that these conflicts will continue and the wounds will be reopened.  Even if family relationships are healthy there are the details about who will host and what food we are to provide.  There is the cost of gifts, decorations, and the outfits we might want to buy.  Our already busy schedules become busier with work parties, gatherings with friends, cooking, baking, and gift wrapping.  There’s the worry about overeating and gaining back the weight you have worked so hard to lose.  What about the fact that the shortest day of the year happens in December?  Those affected by seasonal affective disorder experience increased isolation and sadness.

How can you find some of that peace and joy?

So what is a person to do?  Do we lock the door and hibernate while waiting for this season to be over?  Certainly not! Here are some helpful tips to not only help feel more like oneself, but also find a sense of that joy and peace we so often hear about this time of year.

  1. Know yourself well. Pay attention to the things that are stressors for you.  Once you are aware of these you can identify strategies to decrease that stress.  
  2. Seek support:  Talk with trusted friends and family members.  If professional support is needed, counselors can help identify ways to cope with the stress and grief.  Spending time with our trusted loved ones will decrease our tendency to isolate.
  3. Know your limits:  This applies to your resources of time, energy, and finances.  No need to go to extremes, but seek to find a balance in how you spend these valuable resources.
  4. Honor your grief: Explore how to remember the loved ones you have lost.  There are numerous creative ways we can do this and that help us continue to feel connected to them.
  5. Balance is the key: Seek ways that you can enjoy the food, people, and giving that characterizes these holidays, but in a way that neither deprives nor overindulges.
  6. Be realistic: Check your expectations.  We are not able to change others, but we can change not only our expectations of them, but also the way we respond to others.  It’s ok to say ‘no’ as well as to speak up.
  7. Maintain self-care: Make sure to maintain habits such as exercise, healthy eating, prayer, and whatever else nurtures you.  The additional holiday activities can be scheduled and managed around the typical habits.

This time of year does not have to be stressful.  If you find yourself already dreading what lie ahead, consider incorporating these suggestions.  If you find that you need additional support, reach out.  The counselors at the Center for Pastoral Counseling of Virginia are available to help you.

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