We all know the child-like expectations that TV and movies portray around holiday time. We see the miracle of Scrooge, families reuniting, and joy and warmth fill the air. The real world may have little to do with this fantasy. What really can happen is that old wounds are reopened, people are overcrowded in a home or hotel, and tastes and traditions clash.
What are we to do? First, we need to prepare ourselves. Good surprises are always good, but bad surprises are, you know what, and if we don’t plan for what may happen, we may have to deal with too many of the bad surprises. Let’s look at some common stresses during the holiday season first:
Social expectations can cause stress. Not all of us feel happy and warm and fuzzy all of the time, but many of us feel we have to portray this. We wonder if there is something wrong with us if we are not always ‘on.’ Wrong! No one can be happy or ‘on’ all of the time. Sometimes we get angry and disappointed when our expectations of the holidays do not meet what we get, although whether our expectations are unrealistic or not is something we need to think about before we allow stress to ruin this season.
Too many responsibilities can cause stress during any season, but at holiday time, it’s important to learn the word, ‘no.’ Superman is a cartoon character and remember that fact. Also remember, others may not share your work ethic and may disappoint you when it comes to offering help. Cut down the parties to manageable numbers, make lists before you leave the house to cut down on shopping trips, and do not offer to take on more responsibility than you can handle and still enjoy the season. When you stop humming to yourself, or what you do when you are contented, think again.
Don’t use the holidays as a time to change other’s behavior. You know that they won’t change and that will only bring on more stress, anger and frustration. Try one year to let others celebrate the holiday in their way. It’s important to hear the following: Trying to control others’ behaviors is a losing proposition. Now, I wish to add here with emphasis, if you are not imposing your control on others, don’t let others tell you how to celebrate the holidays either. You’ll be amazed how just doing this will cut down on the games we tend to play in families, some of which really can ruin any day, including a holiday.
Understand that if the holidays mark an anniversary of a loss in your life, that the holiday need not be happy for you. Many people try to repress both good and bad memories and just forge on to protect themselves and others from the past. Since this does not work very often, try understanding that these memories are normal and that the feelings that accompany them are also. As they fade, your holiday will become less anxiety provoking and sad.
Sometimes our holiday memories are so negative that even if we change the people and place, we cannot enjoy the season. If this happens, and the sadness and anger are a continuing process, not an isolated incident, it is important to figure out why. These answers are usually not at a conscious level, that is we can’t relate our behavior to anything we can recall. We just know that every holiday season has been sabotaged by us or a family member.
Human beings tend to focus on someone to blame when things go wrong. Just look at the news and you’ll see how often the first guesses about who is to blame are wrong — even our ‘experts’ mistook the perpetrator of the Oklahoma City bombing at the beginning. Holidays are full of disappointments and times when things go ‘wrong.’ Watch out for the blaming thing and nip it in the bud when ever you see it as this will cut down on stress all around.
During the holidays there are many, if not most, of the population who let things go to the last moment. After all, we are all busy and the store is open late, we say. But we all want good fast service and when we don’t get it , we may get angry, stressed out, and frustrated. If you haven’t noticed in years past, try to notice this year how the later friends let thing go, the more they need to accomplish every day, and therefore the more stressed out they become. Spread it out and the holidays will go smoother, and you’ll have time to stop and smell the boughs of evergreens and cedar.
Never expect things to go exactly as you planned, rather have contingency plans so that people (including yourself) will not be disappointed. For example, I can’t tell you how many holiday vacations we spent visiting my parents in southern Florida, only to have to take out winter clothes and rain gear.
Was the time ruined? Only until we could convince the children that instead of sailing, we would go on a safari and see real jungle animals after packing a picnic lunch for the car ride. At least that day was saved and to tell the truth, this gives wonderful modeling of how to handle disappointment to our children. If we pout, don’t they have the right to do the same. And, if we get angry, doesn’t our spouse have the right be negative when things don’t go his or her way?
Next to last, I want to tell you that although you may wish others to behave in a certain way, they may not and that can cause stress for you. Your history and experiences make your memories and ways of experiencing the holidays; allow others the same freedom.
Finally, lastly, the financial aspects of the holiday can cost more than you wish in terms of anxiety and stress. This is a hard one as many people make plans to stay within their budget and at the last minute get taken in by Madison Ave. and the warmth and joy of the holiday spirit of giving.
Make sure, you and your partner are one on this and rely on each other. I would rather be a bit angry at my husband who quashed another expensive gilt for one of our children, then have to pay it off for a year or two. Holidays and families are for caring, sharing, and love, not for who can give the most presents. Give yourself peace of mind.
Now the 12 ways to cope with stress as promised: You may chuckle at some of these, but if they work go for it:
- Get or borrow a pet. Petting a animal lowers blood pressure and taking a walk with a dog gives you time to think, relax, get things in order, and most of all pull back.
- Make an appointment for a massage. You’ll never know what a stress reducer this is until you try it. Massage can lower blood pressure, ease muscle spasms, relax muscles, increase blood flow in skin and muscles, and relax you. The main selling point here is that it just feels good, and you men out there, try it. Your wives should not be the only ones to enjoy this luxury.
- Turn on music that you like and let it wash away your anger, anxiety and stress.
- Keep a diary. Writing down the good and the bad of our days makes them come into objective focus. Make sure you include all successes and then vent your feelings about the issues you have difficulty controlling. Seeing yourself as a whole being, with strengths and frailties, makes it easier to cope.
- Find time to laugh. Call a friend, read something funny, or do something to bring a smile to your face. This will help balance the stress you feel and help you keep perspective.
- Maintain good social relationships. Now is not the time to withdraw and pout. You have friends and if you’re there for them when they stumble, they’ll be there for you too.
- Be realistic. Not everyone will think as you do, believe what you do, or experience the holidays as you do. Don’t expect absolute harmony. Remember this is not a cartoon or ‘sitcom’ holiday; this is your family. Expect the occasional spat and it won’t be a disappointment.
- Learn how to talk and listen. That old word communication is a fallacy as we all communicate all the time, often not with words. Listen to others if they say you are stressed, hostile etc. so that you don’t alienate others. Don’t, on the other hand be too passive, as you’ll soon find out who gets to do all of the worst jobs around the house. If you find yourself vacillating between these two stances, think of reading up on assertiveness training or attending a class or ten before the next holiday. You’ll be amazed how saying a plain ‘no,’ or how letting others know how they affect you in a considerate way, makes things better.
- Make time for activities that make you feel rejuvenated. These can run the gamut from meditation to Ta iChi, taking a hike, to listening to an opera, or anything else that makes you feel renewed.
- Exercising regularly helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and mild depression while it makes you feel better about yourself. It also primes the immune system and helps ward off some illnesses, but then we at diabetic-lifestyle.com/ know that here we are preaching to the choir and that no reader needs to be reminded to keep up their exercise regime during the holidays. Right?
- Define yourself carefully and clearly so that you are not forced into situations that cause you stress and anxiety. We have all taken on jobs or chores that we said we had the expertise in, only to realize when we started that we were in over our heads. Now is the time to say ‘no’ to requests to do things that you really can’t do without learning new skills and that will cause you even more stress during the busy and hectic holiday season.
- If all else fails, get help from a professional. Talk to your primary care physician or to a specialist. Diabetics are lucky in one way, our blood glucose levels will shout at us when we are under too much stress, telling us that we need help stepping back. Listen to your body, tune into your thoughts, and don’t run from those feelings of tension. Have a happy holiday season and remember these reasons for stress and ways to reduce stress can be carried with you throughout the year.