Coping with Holiday Stress: A Depth Psychotherapy Point of View
We’re now right on the edge of the time when most people start coping with holiday stress. For a great many people, this is easily the most stressful time of the year.
I’ve written a number of posts on this topic, but I think that it is still as relevant as ever! Most /a-midlife-transitions are aware that this time of year is one in which they receive many contacts from potential clients, quite simply because it is such a stressful time of year for people.
There are many aspects of coping with holiday stress, so much so that it would be relatively easy to write up two dozen different blog posts on the subject — relatives, finances, time pressure — the list goes on and on.
For this post, though, I’ve decided to focus on one aspect of the holidays alone, one that is central to the impact of holiday stress. That is the tremendous expectations that we so easily place on the Christmas / Holiday season.
The Heavy Weight of the Holidays
One of the most difficult aspects of the holidays can be the way that we carry such an idealized weight of expectation about them, which can easily lead to intense anxiety. If you consider lists of the most popular Christmas music you’ll find titles such as the following:
- “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”;
- “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas”;
- “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”; and,
- “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”
If you listen to these songs, they’re no doubt charming and even beautiful. But if you listen closely to the lyrics, you become aware of something else. They portray an incredibly idealized picture of Christmas, with mistletoe, endless joy and a universal friendly feeling with a warm glow, with every particular detail just right. Yeah: no pressure people — just get every detail perfect, or else “the most wonderful time of the year” won’t be what it’s supposed to be.
Needless to say, in these songs, there’s no mention of relationship difficulties. Or financial difficulties. Or unemployment. Or the recent loss of a loved one.
Coping with Holiday Stress is Harder if We’re in Denial
Many of us grew up in households where Christmas was idealized to quite an extent. Yet, perhaps without even being fully aware of it, we can easily perpetuate this attempt to reach an idealized summit of “maximum Christmas” without really ever becoming fully aware of what we’re doing.
We can keep doing that, year after year, trying to live up to some ideal perfect Christmas that never arrives for us. This can be particularly difficult if people feel an intense amount of pressure to give their children the wonderful Christmas that they perhaps never had for themselves. Many people are striving so hard to make Christmas right for their kids or grandkids, or other family members. Often, that can be a source of genuine credit card bill anguish in January.
Changing Our Expectations
It may be that the best means of coping with holiday stress is to change our expectations to something more human and self-compassionate. What would an approach to the holidays that was kinder to ourselves look like?
It might well be that the holidays would be less stressful if we could meet them with a lot more acceptance of ourselves and of our own life situations. If we could approach them less as a perfectionistic test that we have to pass, where we and everyone we love has to somehow “make the grade” in terms of our holiday experience, and more as an opportunity to get outside of the busy stress-filled round and re-connect with our selves and our journey to wholeness.
There might be real value in approaching the holidays as a gift to us, rather than as something that we have to achieve. Perhaps taking the time to value what we do have, and to give ourselves the holidays that we need and want, rather than the ones that meet the marketers’ expectations. Perhaps acceptance of our lives as they have been over the last year, and seeking to be open to seeing the meaning in our own real lives might give us the holidays we genuinely want and need.
This process of self-acceptance and of uncovering the meaning in depth of our lives as they unfold is a key part of the process of /a-midlife-transition .
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst