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December 5, 2023

Thinking of December: How to Handle Holiday Stress

Happy (Sad, Frustrating, Mad) Holidays!

December - and the onset of holidays that many people in our diverse nation don’t even celebrate - can evoke many different feelings (and thoughts and behaviors). For some, it truly is the most wonderful time of the year. For others, it can remind us of who in our lives are no longer here. And for many of us, it can be a combination of many feelings. If we look at this time of year through a cognitive-behavioral therapeutic lens - seeing how our thoughts, feelings, and behavior impact each other - we might just get to the new year with our sanity intact.

One thing we can do is slow down and reflect on what we’re feeling, what we’re thinking, and what we’re doing. Are we buying a thousand and one gifts for our children (doing) because we feel guilty about not spending enough time with them (feeling), or because we think it will make them happier (thinking)? Are we eating five desserts at a holiday party (doing) because we’re anxious about being around a lot of people (feeling)? Are we thinking that our neighbors have much nicer holiday decorations than we do, which makes us feel despondent or jealous or resentful?

What if we looked at our neighbors’ lights and used our thoughts to impact our feelings? Instead of “I wish I could have put lights up like that,” we think “those lights are so nice to look at; and they make the whole neighborhood sparkle. Instead of buying a million and one presents, what if we gave the gift of our presence? We can watch ads on TV and think, “oh I want that” or we can think, “I won’t be manipulated into thinking I need that.”

And again, we can slow down and reflect on things we can do to make us feel good about this time of year, such as:

  • Make your own memories and rituals.Holiday movies leave you cold? Scary movies invigorate you? Have Holiday Horror Movie Nights! (Your family, your rules.)
  • Can’t buy everything on that wish list? Have a discussion about things we want vs. things we need.
  • Turn mistakes into…fun?Y ou burnt a batch of cookies? Guess what? It’s National Burnt Cookie Day!
  • If you celebrate a religious holiday this time of year, take time to reflect on the true meaning of that holiday and the teachings of that religion (things like love, miracles, and the importance of community and giving).

We can also use this time of year to reflect on the end of one year and the beginning of a new one. And we can look to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who said, “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

Wishing you and yours a Happy and Healthy New Year!

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