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A Christian Counselor’s Guide to Holiday Stress

By Lisa Velin, MA LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling, PLLC

Image-11The holidays can be a stressful time. Even worse, your feelings of anxiety may be heightened by the contrasting gaiety and busyness of those around you. Whether you are trying to get some shopping done, find that recipe that you used last year, or finalize plans with your relatives – this time of the year can feel overwhelming.

Confronting Holiday Stress

If you are able to understand what causes you stress at this time of year, you will be better able to cut through the vague sense of dread about family gatherings. By identifying specific problems, you can deal with the stress directly. For many people, holiday stress is triggered by the following factors:

  • Holidays Can Trigger Sad Memories

The holiday season can remind people of difficulties in their childhood and of what they missed while they were growing up. Sometimes a sad or stressful event becomes associated with this time of year, such as the death of a loved one or a diagnosis of cancer. As a result, people can experience intense feelings of dread and anxiety at this time.

  • Unhealthy Relationships

Depression and anxiety are often misunderstood and family members may label our feelings, making us feel as if we are at the mercy of relatives as the force of family traditions bears down upon us. Labels such as “lazy” or “dwelling on the past” can be used by some family members to avoid dealing with relationship failures or their own faults. .

  • A Reminder Of All We Have Lost

The holidays can be a reminder of all the things that we have lost and of the things that have changed in our lives, whether through divorce, a child who has moved away and is spending the holidays with others, or a parent who is no longer alive. For some, the holiday season may bring the actual anniversary of a loved one’s death, something that can plunge one further into grief each year.

  • A Reminder of All That Has Remained the Same

For others, the holidays are trying because of the monotony they find in family gatherings. Seeing the same faces, hearing the same jokes, listening to the same conversations, and eating the same food over and over again can be depressing, for it reminds them of all that has not changed in their lives.

Take Steps to Control Your Life

Image-21Having identified some of the specific causes of stress, you need to challenge some of your assumptions. What do you need to do in order to enjoy the holidays differently this year? How can you change your celebration or improve your rituals this year? Perhaps you could start a new tradition for your nuclear family, something you can enjoy apart from your extended family. Perhaps you need to delegate tasks and ask others to do things that you are expected to do and would normally do. You may be surprised to learn that others are just as willing to change things up and to rethink how they can be done during this season. The key is to be conscious about what you’re doing and to focus so that you can be more self-controlled during the stress that the holidays bring. This includes being willing to make different plans and to change your responses to situations.

Breathe Deeply

Before your family gathering, or before engaging in anything year that you normally find stressful, try this breathing exercise in order to reduce tension.

1) Inhale to the count of 2. Exhale to the count of TWO.
2) Inhale to the count of 2. Exhale to the count of FOUR.
3) Inhale to the count of 2. Exhale to the count of SIX.
4) Inhale to the count of 2. Exhale to the count of EIGHT.
5) Inhale to the count of 2. Exhale to the count of TEN.

Having cleared your mind, lowered your expectations, calmed your body, and connected with reality, you will be in a better position to control your reactions to stressful situations. Remember that you can do whatever you need to do to make this season bearable, and even enjoyable. And make sure that, in between all the holiday obligations, you take the time to do something you absolutely love.

Christian Counseling Can Help You Cope with Holiday Stress

This article has suggested some ways in which you can take control of your life during the coming holiday season. This is a stressful time, but you don’t need to let this stress control your life. If you feel alone and in need of support in facing the anxieties that the season brings, a Christian counselor can help you to look at the factors that are causing you stress and support you as you take steps to confront these.

References

Exercise taken from The 10 Best Anxiety Management Techniques by Margaret Wehrenberg. * Much of this article was taken from “Home For The Holidays: Tips For Overcoming Holiday Anxiety and Stress,” a WebMDFeature by R Morgan Griffin.

Photos

Freedigitalphotos.net Christmas Tree” by Teerapun and “Candles” by phanlop88

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