Friday, December 19, 2014

Holiday Blues Again--Updated with New Shades of Blue!

The time of year known as the holiday season is upon us once again. This season evokes mixed feelings in many people, including some Pastors. Some Pastors actually dread this season. I understand why. The holiday season causes stress that impacts a lot of people, and Pastors have a hard time helping people deal with that stress. In this post I am going to deal with the sources of that kind of stress and offer suggestions to deal with it.

Holiday Stress #1: Loneliness. Some years my holidays have been busy beyond belief. Other years have been more quiet. More than once I have spent Christmas Day mostly alone. I did this partly by choice--I could not be with close family or friends for various reasons, so rather than feel like an outsider at another family's celebration, I spent the day alone. One thing that did help my spirits on these years was hosting a low-key holiday gathering at some other time during the season. I have often hosted a casual soup-and-salad lunch for friends on Christmas Eve. It's an inexpensive way to entertain and provides a service to people--after all, we all need to eat.
Another way to deal with loneliness on the holidays is to give back. One Christmas I bought Angel Tree gifts for 16 children whose parents were in prison and delivered them myself. It made me feel good to do good. It isn't necessary to spend money to do good. Phone calls and visits to people who live alone or in nursing facilities are an inexpensive way to do something good for others. I've also spent Christmas Day at the movies. Studios save some of the best movies of the year for this day. It can give you something to look forward to, and it is still a fairly inexpensive splurge.
Holiday Stress #2: Broke at the Holidays. This type of stress is also not unfamiliar to me. Given an unlimited amount of money, I would feed, clothe and shelter the world and then spend Christmas at the Bahamas with my close family and friends, who I had flown in for the occasion(I'm giving, but I'm not a total Saint.) The holidays in America are currently structured both to make people broke and and make people feel broke. I'm not sure who thought this was a good idea. I think the holiday shopping season has taken on a life of its own, and it is a demanding little spoiled brat. Like most people I have limited cash at the holidays, and need to make difficult choices. Kids want video games but they need shoes. Ask yourself what you and your family will remember ten or twenty or fifty years from now. My parents did their best to make my Christmas wishes come true, but what I remember most is the food we ate, the family togetherness we experienced and the spiritual traditions we embraced.
Holiday Stress #3: Feeling sad or angry. Life isn't fair. People lose jobs, get cancer, lose custody of their children. The world is a scary and ugly place where the innocent die and the guilty are not always held accountable. Blows of this nature can feel more painful during a time of year when everyone seems to be partying, gathering contentedly with loved ones, and in general enjoying life even more than usual. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve are only three days out of the year. You don't need these days to be perfect. If your life is in a time of crisis or higher than average stress, your goal should be to make these days at minimum "okay," no better or worse than other days during this time of your life. Adjust your expectations and your viewpoint. Most people post mostly positive things on Facebook. Remember that a smiling photo is only a moment in time. Some lives that seem picture perfect are very much the opposite. Don't waste your time envying people who give out an image of perfection. And definitely don't try to remake your life in their image. It doesn't tell the whole story. And the real story might even be very much the opposite.
Holiday Stress #3: Jerks. Jerks seem to come out of the woodwork during the holiday season. Jerk shoppers swoop in and steal your parking lot in the mall. Jerks get drunk and pass out during the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, or start an argument about politics on Christmas Day. Once again, the first thing you should do is lower your expectations. If you are bothered by someone's drinking or drugging during the holidays, check out an Alanon meeting during the holiday season. Alanon is for anyone who is bothered by the drinking of another person, even if that person is dead or no longer in your life. Alanon teaches techniques for dealing with fights and drama that alcohol inspires some people to initiate.  The next tactic is to limit time with people who tend to create drama and conflict during the holidays, and make it clear to all in advance that this will be the case (we will arrive at X time and leave at Y time.) If you fear that imposing this sort of limit will lead to conflict, then you need to choose your poison and understand that you are making a choice--do I want to deal with drama before the holiday or drama during?) The third tactic is to plan to leave if/when drama starts--"I'm sorry, but I don't want to get into that right now. I'm/we're going to leave." You must get everyone with you on the same page if you use this technique. I have utilized it myself and it is very effective. The key here is to plan a fun alternative in advance. It can be something as simple as popcorn and Netflix at home, but you should always have a plan to enjoy yourself in lieu of being an audience or participant in drama initiated by someone else. The fourth tactic is to attend the holiday celebration(s) that you are dreading as usual, but plan an equivalent amount of time spent doing something you will enjoy--preferably later that day or the next day. Then when the stuff you dreaded begins, you can mentally check out and start thinking about the activity you are looking forward to.
Holiday Stress #5: Too much of a good thing all at once stress. This may be the most common type of holiday stress in materially blessed countries like the United States. It seems as if the world goes mad trying to cram every second with eating, drinking and being merry for five weeks. You can try to ease that pressure by scheduling some of your personal holiday celebrating and gift giving for later on during the traditional twelve days in the Christmas season (Dec. 24-Jan. 6). Even if you do that, you may find yourself overwhelmed with social obligations. If you struggle with the temptation to indulge in too much food or drink, these social obligations can be a major source of stress. Don't put so much pressure on yourself.  If you abstain from alcohol due to an addiction and your recovery feels at all fragile, don't participate in any holiday celebrations beyond what you absolutely need to for work, and make sure that all of your support systems are fully in place. If your problem is just garden variety overindulging and undersleeping, aim to take it down a notch or two. I'm a recovering compulsive overeater but I haven't binged in over two decades and I let myself have small portions of rich foods at holiday celebrations and don't feel deprived. Whatever you do, don't make a resolution to start dieting/exercising in January, unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere. I've dealt with the problem with "weight creep" a few times in my life and a new diet/exercise plan has the greatest chance of success during the spring and summer. This is true even if you exercise indoors. Why is this? It's just how nature works. You're fighting the circadian rhythm. If you have established a diet/exercise plan prior to the holidays, do your best to keep up with it, even if you are traveling. Indulge a little but don't go overboard--or if you do go overboard, get back on track as soon as you can manage.
Holiday Stress #6: I can't take this much longer/I have no hope stress. I will deal with this type of stress in my next post.

One of the things that helps me deal with stress is music. Studies have shown that music can lift your mood. If you are feeling low, the best technique is to start with a song that mirrors your mood. If that doesn't do the trick, gradually switch to more and more uplifting music.
Here is one of the songs that always makes me happy.

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