John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

Holiday Stress

Not everybody likes the holidays. Not every wants to spend time with their families. Some folks are struggling just to make ends meet, which makes buying presents a stretch on a tight budget. Others have lost loved ones in the past year, and are faced with a stark reminder of this loss when everybody sits down at the holiday table in their usual places, but one of their members is missing.

Holidays can also be stressful because there is so much to do. The holiday traditions can feel like more work on top of a schedule that is already full. Decorations to hang, presents to buy, cards to send, food to make, schedules to coordinate — getting all that extra-work done — and on-time, no less — can feel like taking on a part-time job.

And then there’s commercial aspect of Christmas. For those us who still go in brick and mortar stores, are we not aghast when we see holiday decorations emerge a day or two after Halloween? Please, no, we think; we don’t want to deal with the Christmas push just yet.

Not everybody likes the holidays. I get it, I really do.

Every year, when the holidays roll around, I wonder if I should write up some kind of tip sheet for coping with holiday stress. You know the one I’m talking about. You've probably seen or heard something like it before: “10 Sure-fire Ways to Cope with Holiday Stress,” or "Beat the Holiday Blues." As if you can improve your ability to cope simply by reading some nifty bullet points, ideally limited to a single page.

My problem is, I'm not convinced these one-page wonders actually do much for people. Why? Because everybody’s situation is just a little bit different. To my way of thinking, such lists feel trite. They do not capture the complexity of most people's situations.

Most holiday traditions involve other people in some way, and most of the people I know are complicated, irrational, or flawed, and many them are operating from a perspective that puts themselves at the center of the universe. When human beings congregate, with family, friends, or various communities, are we really shocked when old patterns and wounds and difficulties emerge? Humans are imperfect beings. We’re bound to run into problems with each other, sooner or later. Dealing with holiday stress — or blues, family craziness, or whatever — usually takes some nuanced thought and consistent efforts over time.

I know, I know. This isn’t much help, is it? Maybe you'd prefer the tip sheet…?

Okay, then. I’m going to give you a single suggestion for how to cope with holiday stress.

Go read or watch
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. When it comes to gaining perspective on the season, this is a good place to start. Regardless of your traditions, religious beliefs, or country of origin, you can learn a lot from this story. Maybe you've read it or seen it before? No surprise there; it is popular, and for good reason. But maybe try reading it or watching it again. My guess is, you'll feel inspired all over again. Stories have a wonderful of giving us perspective, and sometimes they even teach us how to live.

Happy holidays.

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