Healthy Aging

healthy aging

Holiday Stress - How to Survive

Holidays are stressful and with the national and local and personal financial concerns this year, we have the makings for an unusually difficult season.

The major reason for the stress is that reality does not meet the expectations or that the reality is well beyond our control.  Expectations are set high by all the media advertisements, the countless joyous holiday movies (rebroadcast every year), and the seemingly endless number of holiday parties (where only a Grinch would be out of sorts).  Of course, the reality is we are the same people during the holidays as we are any other time and things are not always perfect – we might have suffered a major loss, we might have a chronic illness, we certainly have friends and even family with whom we are not completely happy to see for an endless number of reasons. The added stress this year for us older folks in this continuing economic slump is that we are on a fixed income and our retirement income is likely significantly down. 

Of course, these factors are not the only reasons that the holiday season brings stress.  There are a host of contributing causes.  First, of all our routines are interrupted and this affects our rest.  Sleep is vital to a sense of well being and if we miss it, then stress is the outcome.  Then there are the dietary indiscretions that inevitably occur at the series of parties beginning at Thanksgiving and lasting to New Year’s day.  Throw in alcohol that seems to be more plentiful than ever during the holidays, and this contributes to poor judgment in many things. 

Travel is often a part of the holidays – either going to see children or other family or having visitors to our home.  Travel itself is stressful, especially these days given the problems with the airport security and fewer flights and higher costs.  House guests (yes, family are your guests) make for an especially stressful time with meal preparations and planning of events so that all those under the roof are “entertained.”  Conversely, for some there are no guests and this is a very lonely time and the joy of others only magnifies our loneliness.   For our fixed budgets the holidays pose some financial problems due to the gifts, parties, travel and general spirit of the time (nobody wants to seem like Scrooge.)

Survival Plan

There is a way to survive the holiday stress.  There are numerous tips or techniques for regular stress that also apply to holiday stress.  I’ll list some things that apply to all types of stress.

Acknowledge your feelings and see if you can change the way you are approaching the holidays.  If you feel dread or negative about the time, say to yourself exactly how you feel, and then try to find something positive and good about the time.  Look for some positive no matter how many negatives seem apparent. 

Communicate your feelings to your family and closest friends – do not suffer needlessly alone.  Do not hesitate to refuse some of the many invitations and obligations that come your way. 

Keep balance in your life.  Be sure to stay as close to a non-holiday schedule as possible. 

Include exercise that balances all the food that inevitably you will eat.  Keep alcohol to moderate levels.  Be certain that you make time for yourself – relaxation is important for you during this time.  It shouldn’t be put off until after the holidays – take a walk, listen to music, read your book, play golf or tennis – anything that treats yourself to important self-indulgence to balance all the time with others. 

It is important to grieve at this time for those lost to you – spouses, family, friends, your health, and the host of other losses of the year and previous years. 

Finally, this is a time of happiness, right?  Well, then take every opportunity to expose yourself to those things that are humorous and bring you laughter.  This can be books, tapes, movies or watching the three stooges on the movie channel.  Whatever it is, have some laughs to ward off the stresses of the holidays.  And, don’t forget that the holidays will be over soon enough and then it will be back to normal life – and you will have survived another holiday season, actually enjoying it more than usual!

More Coping Ideas

The holiday season starts with Halloween and continues through January.  The American Psychological Association recommends these ideas to cope:

  • Take time for yourself
  • Volunteer
  • Have realistic expectations
  • Remember what's important
  • Seek support

© Medical University of South Carolina | 171 Ashley Avenue, Charleston, SC 29425