There’s not enough time. There’s not enough money. There’s pressure to make the experience magical for your kids.
You didn’t make it to the store, but you can’t go to your neighbor’s Christmas party empty-handed. Then there’s the secret Santa gift for your co-worker and the doubled workload due to the time off you’ll be taking.
And what about the pies you promised you’d make for Christmas Eve?
As it turns out, Americans in the “holiday anxiety club” have plenty of company. Recent data from the American Psychological Association revealed that about a quarter of us claim to experience an “extreme level of stress” this time of year. Nearly 70 percent reported having a “lack of time” and a “lack of money,” and a whopping 50 percent said they felt the “pressure to give or get gifts.”
In addition, the APA suggests that those already experiencing stress in other areas of their lives — such as job security, isolation, unemployment, foreclosure and retirement concerns — may be especially vulnerable to increased anxiety during the holiday season.
While some stress is a natural part of life, APA experts suggest there are ways to help alleviate the feelings of holiday anxiousness:
1. Take time for yourself.
There may be pressure to be everything to everyone. Remember that you’re only one person and can only accomplish certain things. Sometimes self-care is the best thing you can do — others will benefit when you’re stress- free. Go for a long walk, listen to your favorite music or read a new book. All of us need some time to recharge our batteries.
Many charitable organizations are also suffering due to the economic downturn. Find a local charity, such as a soup kitchen or a shelter where you and your family can volunteer. Helping those who are living in true poverty may help you put your own economic struggles in perspective.
3. Have realistic expectations.
No Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza or other holiday celebration is perfect. View inevitable missteps as opportunities to demonstrate flexibility and resilience. A lopsided tree won’t ruin your holiday; rather, it will create a family memory. If your children’s wish list is outside your budget, talk to them about the family’s finances this year and remind them that the holidays aren’t about expensive gifts.
4. Remember what’s important.
The barrage of holiday advertising can make you forget what the holiday season is really about. When your holiday expense list is running high, remind yourself that what makes a great celebration is loved ones not store-bought presents, elaborate decorations or gourmet food.
5. Seek support.
Talk about your anxiety with your friends and family. Getting things out in the open can help you navigate your feelings and work toward a solution for your stress. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, consider seeing a professional such as a psychologist to help you manage your holiday stress.
Stress in the home
When it comes to home life, the number of domestic violence incidents are “off the charts this time of year,” said Veronica Monet, a Nevada City anger management specialist.
“There’s a high expectation — people have waited all year to have ‘fun,’” she said. “Expectations are a problem. It’s better to let go of expectations and instead be of service. Try to be helpful and positive to those you love most.”
When family members push each other’s buttons, Monet reminds her clients that they always have a choice when it comes to how they react.
“Very few people are truly out of control when it comes to anger,” she said. “For example, you would probably choose not to hit a cop or verbally abuse him. We are capable of choices.”
Monet advises taking the following steps when anger flares up: First, acknowledge that you have a choice when it comes to your behavior and take responsibility for being in control. Second, learn to recognize your body symptoms when angry, such as holding breath, spitting when talking or clenching your jaw or fists. Third, take a “time out” or time away from the person with whom you are angry.
“This isn’t like a kid’s time out — you pre-negotiate with your partner regarding how long you’ll need,” Monet said. “I’m not talking about walking away and refusing to talk. You need to take time out to build compassion for yourself and the other person. That will help you approach the situation differently. Finally, take responsibility for coming back to the topic that you abandoned. If you’re still not ready, make a date to talk about it.”
Amid the chaos, there’s one piece of advice experts agree on when it comes to the inevitable stress of this time of year: Remember the “reason for the season.”
To contact staff writer Cory Fisher email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4203.