Anxiety runs rampant across the holiday season! And chasing right behind it is its close friend, Depression. But wait, isn’t Christmas supposed to be one of the most joyous and happiest times of the year? Then why do so many people find themselves weighed down, lethargic, and lacking the motivation to make it through the last stretch of the year? My theory, is that this is supposed to be a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, time with family and friends who enrich and fill our lives, and it turns into an anxious and exhausting time for some!
There is conflict over who we are supposed to go visit this year and who we visited last year; busted budgets; for some the stress of entertaining and making the house look spotless; making incredibly delicious and beautiful food; trying to guess what everyone wants for Christmas this year. You name it, someone out there is stressing out about it! And suddenly we are in a state of dread, panic and Anxiety moves in, and then we are so anxious we can’t imagine doing anything, we have no motivation. That is when Depression catches up to join us and Anxiety for this not so fun unwelcomed Christmas party we find ourselves in. Like two miserable unwanted house guests, we just can’t seem to get them to leave!
As a counselor I am of the school of thought that thoughts are what drives everything in our emotional and behavioral repertoire. Thoughts give way to feelings which motivate certain behaviors. If we can find a way to change our thoughts about the upcoming hustle and bustle of the holiday and Christmas season we can change our feelings and the consequently our actions.
We start by identifying the negative thoughts that are driving the anxious and depressed feelings. When we recognize the thought, we are one step closer to being able to change them. One way I suggest to do this is to create a thought log like this one. This can help you become aware of your negative thoughts, and what events trigger them. For example, maybe your negative thought is, “I can’t enjoy the season because I just can’t do something for one more event.” This thought might come right after your fourth child comes home with a note in her backpack asking parents for donation for the classroom Christmas party. Now that you know the thought and recognize it as it comes across your mind, when baby number five needs something you can prepare yourself and instead of let the thought consume you and bring you down you can come up with a simple solution that does not stress you out.
Using simple solutions can eliminate unnecessary stresses we are placing on ourselves. There may be some basic requirements during the holiday season that extend us a bit further than the rest of the year, but most of it is unnecessarily placed on us, by our own selves! If we go back to the earlier example, the teacher ask you contribute to the class party, but she never asked for a gourmet dessert, store bought cookies or a box of candy canes will suffice just the same!
So now we are aware of the thoughts because we wrote them down, we recognize them when they come back, and are prepared for them because we know the situations which are most likely to provoke those thoughts! And we ask who is imposing the expectation on us, the outside world, or ourselves. If it is a self-imposed expectation, examine it and ask your-self the following questions:
Will you lose something crucial if you don’t complete the task? For example, in decorating, we might need to decorate the house a bit, put up the tree, hang stockings, set up the nativity. But we don’t need elaborate tablescapes, or our houses to look like the designer pictures on Pinterest! Nobody’s house really looks like that all the time
Don’t try to compare yourself to anyone else, no one else is in your same situation so you don’t have to compete with them. Nobody has it all put together, even if it looks like they do, they are probably hiding all the other stuff; everyone wants to feel put together. So like I said temper your own expectations of what you are able to achieve; especially during the holidays where we are spread so thin between shopping for everyone, making dishes for all sorts of parties, traveling, dealing with family, and hosting. Set reasonable expectations and remember when you begin to feel overwhelmed, slow down, breath, and ask yourself those questions above. If you need to scale back, do so, no one will judge you for bringing a store bought cheese platter rather than slicing it all yourself if you just don’t have the time!
Remember this is supposed time of celebration, so if you are approaching it more with dread than joy then perhaps you need to find ways to manage your own expectations of yourself, and find ways to scale back instead of over stretching yourself to the point of exhaustion. If you can find ways to do this, then you will reduce the anxiety and depression that might plague you during the holiday season! And then just maybe your unwanted house guests, Anxiety and Depression, will move out before Christmas Day!