While the holiday season may be called “the most wonderful time of year,” many people may not feel the cheer due to stress on their minds. Michael Bernstein, a psychiatrist and the medical director of behavioral health services at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, says people are stressed because “expectations are high and there is a lot to do in a short amount of time. On top of that, many stressors tend to peak during the holiday season — social expectations, financial obligations, family relations and personal loss.”
Bernstein says people create inner anxiety by stressing over creating the perfect holiday meal or getting the perfect gift. He offers some tips on setting realistic expectations and navigating the “emotions of the season.”
• Family get-togethers are a time of happy reunion but can also stir up old conflicts. Try to accept family members and friends as they are. Don’t try to use the time to resolve any ongoing issues.
• For many people, the holidays are a reminder that some loved ones are no longer here. Acknowledge your feelings and understand that it’s normal to feel some sadness and loss.
• Financial anxiety is another common source of stress. Be realistic about gift-giving and stick to a budget. Ignore the temptation to overspend for holiday sales. Your discipline will pay off with reduced stress when the credit card bill comes due after the holidays.
• Be realistic with your time — don’t overschedule your social calendar and do allow some downtime for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do.
• Keep up healthy habits such as taking a walk and not overindulging in heavy food and alcohol.
Dr. Bernstein also recommends aiming to achieve three specific healthy mental goals for the holiday season: appreciate and connect with family and friends, help others and accept imperfection.