Holidays, Family, and Stress
There’s an old commercial of a large white house with blue shudders. The house is decorated with white icicle lights and pine wreaths with red bows. The snow is falling and the music is playing. A family gets out of their station wagon and makes their way up to the front door. In their arms are piled Christmas presents wrapped with beautiful paper and ribbon. Before the parents and their kids arrive at the door, grandma and grandma open the door with arms open wide and give each family member great big hugs then hurry them inside out of the cold. The next scene is the family sitting around the dining room table with a large Christmas ham and the place settings perfectly situated. The music still playing, the smiles and laughter provide a clear indication that everyone is enjoying themselves. The final scene is the family sitting around the Christmas tree in their pajamas. As dad opens his gift, he is delighted to receive another neck-tie. The kids are elated at the sight of all the presents and can hardly contain themselves until the receive the next wrapped gift to open. With the music still playing, its obvious that this is what a family is. Its obvious that this is what the holidays are all about. Its obvious that any person watching the commercial is thinking to themselves, why isn’t my family like that.
For many people the thought of family time like this is not occasion to sing, “Joy to the World” or “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” For many, the mere thought of Christmas is stressful. Christmas to many means putting things on layaway which will be later bought with credit cards. It means putting on smiles while you pretend to enjoy being around relatives. It means enduring family traditions which feel like just another hoop to jump through until you can make (and break) another New Years resolution. For some, the thought of Christmas just reminds them of the stress they have to endure for an entire month. The joy of Christmas seems to be overshadowed by the pain of remembering hurt feelings and tense family environments.
Many of the clients I see at the Marriage and Family Institute express that they do not want to continue counseling during the holiday season because things are just too busy. Many times the holiday season brings up a lot of the pain associated with family for a variety of reasons. The family traditions cause people to long for the day when family members were still alive to share in them. Having family get togethers where abusive relatives are present presents its own kind of pain. The starting of new family traditions seems painful for parents who want their kids to do things the way they have always been done their way and stressful for grown kids who feel like they can’t start their own without hurting the parents.
Many people don’t know how to handle the stress. Many people attempt to plow through the stress and instead of starting a new year recharged and ready to go, they are left trying to recover from the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The problem is not having too many stressful tasks this month. The problem is that people often try to raise their level of stress tolerance instead of lowering it.
When people try to raise their level of stress tolerance, they are finding ways to add to their plate more of the same things which stress them out. If you already have 5 things on your plate and there are 3 things you cannot handle, raising your stress tolerance to deal with the three things left out will only help you feel like you can put more than eight things on your plate. Instead we need to think about ways we can lower our tolerance for stress. Lowering our stress tolerance will help us to not have such high expectations that we burn out. When we lower our tolerance for stress, we find ways to manage our stress without overburdening ourselves. This makes us much more pleasant to be around on Christmas morning and instead of feeling burned out by New Years, you can feel recharged and ready to go instead. The link below describes 12 ways you can help lower your tolerance for stress this holiday season.