We all dream of a stress-free Christmas. Stress over the holidays? Who needs it?
For many, the approach to Christmas is a period of anxiety and dread. We’re already facing long chilly, dark, and gloomy wintry days. Earlier each year it seems like we are under bombardment from relentless commercial reminders that Christmas is the next big event on the calendar.
For some this can be a period of mounting unhappiness as the seasonal blitz draws nearer. We are busy for weeks before the festive holiday even starts with buying presents and going to parties. We overload our bodies with rich food and stimulants, like alcohol, caffeine and sugar, which increase stress; and, worst of all, we have high expectations of Christmas which piles on the pressure. For some, Christmas can also make existing problems seem even larger. Christmas emphasizes how unhappy people are, the fact that they may not have a partner or many friends, while everyone else seems to be having fun. It also brings back tender memories of Christmas past and departed loved ones.
Typically, all of this makes Christmas the most stressful time of the year. The pressure of last minute shopping and the heightened expectations of family togetherness all combine to challenge our mental well-being. Whether you look forward with enthusiasm to the shopping and preparations or with dread at all the trouble, extra work and drain on resources, Christmas is a celebration which makes great demands on our physical and emotional energy. Routines are disrupted, diets forgotten, digestions thrown out of kilter, and anxieties build up on all levels.
This is when it becomes all too obvious to most of us that stress is an unavoidable consequence of life. As such, though, it is not necessarily harmful. In fact without stress, there would be no life. Think about it. Winning a contest or race can be just stressful as losing, sometimes even more so, but will produce a totally different biological response. Increased stress results in increased productivity, up to a point. However, this level will clearly be different for each of us.
It’s very much like the stress on a guitar string. Not enough produces a dull, dreary sound. Too much tension makes a high-pitched, maddening noise or breaks the string. However, just the right amount of stress will produce a brilliant tone. Similarly, we all need to find the proper level of pressure that allows us to perform optimally and help us to attain and keep vital health. View some stress as natural and even invigorating; a necessary component for leading a full and happy life. It gets the adrenaline flowing, quickens the mind, energizes the body and helps us get on with our lives in a much more positive way. With understanding, we can even learn to see stress as something of a friend.
Good health is more than just the absence of illness. Rather, it is a very robust state of physical and emotional well-being, which acknowledges the importance and inseparability of mind/body relationships.
The first step towards successfully managing stress is self-awareness and putting things into the proper perspective. Stress is caused by fundamental animal instincts like fear and hunger. The reaction to these is automatic preparation for fight or flight. Stress is an aspect of living that can be beneficial when it motivates or inspires, but can be harmful when it does not. Chronic Stress (severe or prolonged) is generally undesirable in anyone’s life. It will lead to all manner of ills, exhaustion, depletion and finally to disease. It reduces our ability to cope, undermines our confidence and destroys our sense of well-being.
Many medical practitioners treat Chronic Stress as a disease and focus on the physical aspects of stress, developing drug treatments to counteract supposed brain chemical imbalances and symptoms. And surprise, surprise, they have a pill for every symptom. This is not the answer! You need to restore and maintain your overall health. Just as headaches are not caused by a lack of aspirin, stress is not caused by lack of benzodiazepines, anti-anxiety, hypnotics, sedatives or tranquilizers.
We need help finding that necessary balance. What can we do? Well, the answer is basically the same as with someone suffering from Chronic Stress. Everyone needs therapeutic water, clean air, healthy food, enzymes, essential fatty acids and vitamins to function in a balanced way. Listen to what your body is telling you! Once more, sometimes, a few simple changes in lifestyle are all that’s required to take the sting out of seasonal strain. Besides making sure that our bodies are healthy enough to handle the strain, we should learn to help ourselves by changing the bad attitudes and habits that erode our mental state.
- Do not expect a hassle-free Christmas. Having realistic expectations can prevent disappointment. Appreciate that your feelings may be due to a combination of Christmas-related factors, including money worries, the pressure of last minute shopping and unrealistic expectations of festive cheer. Remind yourself that many of these negative feelings will pass once the New Year is underway.
- Budget for Christmas so that you don’t overspend. This may mean putting money away each week throughout the year. Do your Christmas shopping early and take steps to avoid overspending.
- Plan ahead instead of waiting until the last minute, and you’ll enjoy it even more. Make a gift list and keep it with you. Open your eyes and window shop. When you see something you know someone will like, go ahead and buy it. Think outside the box. When you shop all year, you have the opportunity to do this. Every Christmas gift doesn’t have to be a sweater or winter-type gift.
- Shop on the internet. Have fun and explore. Many stores run promotions off-and-on year round. When you’re not under pressure to buy immediately, you have time to “window shop”. Enjoy your window-shopping whether it’s in the stores or on the internet. But be ready to buy when you see something you like. Make your choices wisely and keep up with your lists.
- Make a list of the gifts that you buy. Each time you make a gift purchase, whether it’s on the internet or in the store, put it on the list. If you don’t make some kind of notes, you’ll get real confused when it comes time to wrap. You won’t remember who was supposed to get what.
- Buy Christmas decorations year-round on the internet or right after the holidays. When the next Christmas season arrives, you’ll be ready.
- Make a conscious effort to recall all the positive things you did or experienced during the year. If possible, mend fences where there has been conflict or a broken relationship. Contact those people you miss and make steps towards reconciliation.
Remember that most New Year’s Eve resolutions are unrealistic and even possibly made during times of sad reflection. This year, try to come up with positive and achievable goals for the upcoming 12 months.
Finally, let Christmas just happen! Remember what this is all really about, the celebration of life, so go on, celebrate! Have fun and keep on enjoying Christmas.
from The Wolfe Clinic
(Article revised from the original written by Dr. Darrell Wolfe.)