This time of the year I get a barrage of patients who feel terribly stressed due to the holidays. They complain about the crazy shoppers, miss the simplicity of the season, and are fed up with this rampant materialism and commercialization. All this leads to huge stress and the feelings that they must fulfill expectations.
I tell my patients they have a choice: participate in the frenzy of the season, or reduce stress by changing their view and celebrating in a way that is unique to them and truly theirs.
Materialism isn't an expression of love, and extravagance doesn't equal happiness. Therefore, spare the craziness of the shopping malls and be imaginative with gift giving. For example, for the friend with kids who never gets a night out with her husband, create a gift certificate volunteering your baby-sitting services. Or in lieu of cheesy grab bag gifts at the office party, suggest donating to a worthy cause such as Superstorm Sandy relief.
Examine your expectations. Do you have to attend every party you're invited to, or is this feeling of obligation self-imposed? Set lower standards that are based on your expectations and needs, not those of others. Feel comfortable saying no to stressful events and yes to what is truly important and enjoyable to you. Further, while old traditions provide good memories, sometimes due to life's circumstances it's not always possible to continue them. So give yourself a break and be open to creating new ones. Many patients lately have taken up volunteering at shelters, soup kitchens, and community centers. Above all, don't forget the message of the holidays: peace, joy, and love.
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