Understanding and Relieving Holiday Stress Depression and Anxiety
With every passing year, holiday stress depression and anxiety become an ever greater issue in our society, with more and more of us affected.
Because of it’s importance, I’ve written on variations of this issue several times previously. Yet, it’s very important to keep exploring this issue in ways that give us deeper understanding of stress and negative emotional reaction to the holidays , and that also allow us to see some ways of alleviating these strong reactions, and possibly finding joy and depth of meaning in our holiday experience — and in our lives.
Expectations of “The Holiday Experience”
We expect so much of this time of year, and we expect so much of ourselves at this time of year. Because of the ever-increasing demands of jobs, and often because of the ever-increasing expectations we face with respect to meeting our children’s needs and keeping them in extra-curricular activities, many people in communities like my own suburban town of Oakville lead demanding, exhausting lives of near-continual activity. This can lead us into a range of unrealistic expectations for the holiday season. We can end up pinning totally unreasonable hopes upon the season — and upon ourselves — for what must happen, if we’re to have a worthwhile holiday season. Between Christmas and New Year’s, this can mean spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
What if we let ourselves off the hook, and accepted that we could have good holidays, connecting with those we love and value — and, above all, with ourselves — without spending an enormous amount of money? What if we could have a warm, connected and meaningful holiday season, with reasonable expectations, without slave-driving ourselves with perfectionistic ideas about “how it’s gotta be”?
Expectations and Family
This brings up a related subject, painful for many. In our culture, we are flooded by images of happy families gathered together for the holidays, getting along famously and harmoniously. This imagery floods TV ads, holiday music videos and Christmas specials.
For many of us, however, the reality of family during the holidays is much more ambiguous, and often very painful. Many of us carry memories, some absolutely traumatic, of family occasions of conflict associated with the holidays. Many people’s experience of the holidays in previous years is scarred by tragic or traumatic experiences associated with alcohol or other addictions, often involving a close relative.
It’s essential to approach the issue of family at the holidays with a spirit of constructive, rather than destructive hope. By “destructive hope”, I mean the kind of hope, often rooted in childhood, that keeps hoping against all odds that someone will respond in a positive, life-giving way, when all that they have repeatedly shown is destructive, hurtful and life denying. If we are to get beyond holiday stress depression and anxiety in the context of family and relationship, we must be conscious and clear-sighted about relationships. We need to invest in relationships where we are going to get support, love and affirmation, and we need to grieve relationships where that’s not the case, and move on from them. The holidays can be a crucial time for making life-giving decisions about close relationships.
Spirituality and Meaning
Spirituality and meaning are essential aspects of moving beyond holiday stress, depression and anxiety. Perhaps the traditional spirituality associated with a season like Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa has great meaning for you. If so, that’s wonderful, and you should by all means incorporate traditional religious observances into your celebration of the season.
Yet, contemporary /a-midlife-transition shows that such symbolism speaks powerfully to some in our time, and not at all to others. If traditional religious symbols are not meaningful for you, the holidays might be a time to start your own exploration of the kind of spirituality and sources of meaning that genuinely matter for you. Spirituality can mean many different things. Humans strongly need to feel connected to some value greater than the human ego — whether God, the Tao, the Ancestors, the human race, or some other value.
Holiday Stress Depression & Anxiety… and the Whole of Our Lives
The broad questions of spirituality and meaning posed to us by the holiday season matter for the whole of our lives — they are existential issues.
Jungian /a-midlife-transition work is always deeply concerned with the broad issue of finding meaning, significance and purpose in the life of the individual. It recognizes that part of the uniqueness of an individual is the values that he or she holds most deeply. Depth case studies helps the person to express those values, as a fundamental part of the individual’s journey to wholeness .
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst