Stress during the holiday season is as much a tradition as the Christmas tree or the lighting of the menorah. Whether you’ve overspent on gifts or dread confrontation at the dinner table, stress is the one thing we’re never short of. Ironically, much of our stress comes from trying to create the holiday magic of love and spirituality. We all want to be like the Cratchits in “A Christmas Carol.” In truth, many family celebrations resemble the Costanzas’ Festivus dinner from “Seinfeld”.
For example, we can all relate to the tradition known as The Airing of the Grievances. Frank Constanza begins the after-dinner tradition with: “I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!” Who among us doesn’t have one of these relatives to deal with? While it’s hilarious on-screen, it’s a primary source of stress and anxiety in real life.
So what’s the answer to surviving a volatile holiday celebration? The grin and bear it method is one option. Come on, it’s only once a year, right? Well, that’s true for some things, like nosy, yet innocent remarks from relatives. Yes, it’s annoying when your aunt mentions that she knows someone’s “who perfect for you!” Then again, she probably says this to just about anyone who’s unmarried. It’s not a personal attack, so there’s no point in taking it personally. On the other hand, you shouldn’t submit to comments that hit below the belt. Constant quips like “When are you get a real job?” or “Your biological clock is ticking!” are absolutely personal.
Festivus rules would have us challenge such relatives to a wrestling match during the Feats of Strength. This is obviously an ineffective, and possibly dangerous way to resolve your grievances. A more positive way to deal with your stress is to speak up in a civil, yet assertive manner. If someone comments on your career choice, tell them how happy and fulfilled you are at your job. Talk about the exciting projects you’re doing, and the great people you work with. Counter their negativity with positivity, instead of getting defensive or confrontational.
Another source of stress during the holiday season are the two hot button issues: politics and religion. Most of us have no problems respecting other people’s beliefs at school, work and other public places. But Uncle John’s admiration for President Trump as he asks you to pass the gravy? Your atheist cousin’s diatribe on the irrationality of Jesus’ conception? For some reason, these are fighting words that form the basis of many volatile holiday celebrations.
Here’s important lesson to remember when dealing with such relatives. You can’t change other people, but you can change how you react to them. Rather than arguing back, engage yourself in other tasks or conversation with someone else. In many cases, that relative isn’t speaking directly to you, so there’s no need to answer back. If they ask your opinion, try to change the subject to something you both agree on. In some cases, you may have to be firm by saying, “Let’s talk about some lighter things at the holiday table”. But try to do it with good humor rather than annoyance or judgment.
More often than not, volatile subjects come up when people have had one too many drinks. A couple of drinks makes guests merry and bright. A whole bottle of wine, on the other hand, makes them combative or overly emotional. This is the Airing of the Grievances: Part II at many gatherings, and it often ends in tears, and maybe even a trip to the emergency room.
If you’re the host, limit the amount of alcohol at your gathering. Even people who normally don’t drink may turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism during stressful events. Unfortunately, alcohol just doesn’t work as a stress management technique. If anything, you’ll end up stressing over the things you said and did the night before. That, in itself, makes alcohol an unhealthy way to deal with stress during the holiday season.
In reality, surviving a volatile holiday celebration involves accepting the things you can’t change, while having the courage to change the things you can. Balancing these areas is essential in any stress management journey, not just during the holidays, but throughout your entire life. Doing so often requires self-examination into your own fears and insecurities. It requires naming the source of your stress triggers, and finding constructive ways to deal with them.
As a final lesson, remember that Festivus is popular because it’s relatable. You are not alone in your struggle to deal with stress during the holiday season. Instead of dreading the upcoming celebrations, think of positive ways to deal with your stress ahead of time.
-Rose Scott is the Editor-in-Chief of trystressmanagement.com. By sharing her knowledge and personal experiences, she hopes to encourage others who struggle with stress, anxiety and depression.