Ask the Psychologist: Holidays, Family & Stress
We’re tapping into the expertise of Dr. Stephanie Smith. Dr. Smith is a mother, clinical psychologist, author of Dr. Stephanie. Each month, she’ll answer one question from fellow parents. Have a question centered around health, kids or food for Dr. Stephanie? Comment below and let us know!
The holiday season often paints a picture of the “perfect” family, but not all families are that way. What strategies do you suggest for dealing with pushy relatives or family drama during the holiday season?
The holiday season, so beautifully portrayed in Hallmark movies and Walmart commercials, often looks nothing like it’s “supposed” to in our real lives. Instead, it can be a time of:
- Worry over money and gifts
- Renewed struggle with body image and weight
- Trouble getting along with family and friends
- Feelings of loneliness
- Grief over lost family, friends and times in the past
- Angst in trying to do too much in too little time
- Eagerness to just get to January 2nd already
No matter who you are, no matter what holidays you celebrate; the energy, frenzy, and cultural expectations of this time of year almost certainly affect you in one way or another. It’s just part of life.
So, with that in mind, how do we get to January with our mental health intact?
Consider your expectations.
Now is a great time to sit down and consider what your expectations are for the holiday season.
To have the most beautifully decorated house? Send out holiday cards on time? Get to the new year with no debt? Still fit into your jeans? Spend time with out-of-town family? Get one perfect picture of your kids with Santa?
No one can do everything, so there is a lot of use in being honest about our priorities and expectations. Once we outline what is important to us, we can make realistic, reasonable and (hopefully) effective plans to get there.
Come up with a plan.
Finances can be one of the biggest sources of stress around the holidays. To avoid over-spending, devise a budget and a plan for gift giving – and stick to it!
Most people agree that the holidays aren’t about big, fancy gifts, so try keeping it simple and inexpensive, and leave the stress behind.
This one is tough because I ALWAYS HAVE MY HOLIDAY LIGHTS STRUNG UP BY DECEMBER FIRST AND IF I DON’T THE HOUSE MIGHT CAVE IN! Not really, but you know what I mean.
We all have things that are important to us, but sometimes in this high-stress time of year, we need to practice a little flexibility to get to the other side.
Little ones get sick, bank accounts aren’t what they were last year, flights get delayed, or the “holiday spirit” just isn’t what it used to be. The point is, stuff comes up. The more we can go along easily with unexpected changes, the better off we will be.
It’s OK to say no.
There can be a lot of pressure this time of year to say yes to everything. Yes to parties. Yes to volunteering at the kids’ school. Yes to filling in for someone at work. Yes to entering the cookie decorating competition. Yes to buying into the idea that a happy holiday season for you looks the same as a happy holiday season for your sister, neighbor or mom.
But here’s the thing: It’s OK to say no. No to all of, no to some of it, whatever you want! You’re in control.
Reach out for help.
For some folks, the struggle with the holiday season is deeper than just busyness and expectations. The profound loneliness, sense of loss and depression that can be felt this time of year can be quite serious and debilitating.
If you are in this situation, consider reaching out for help to a psychologist or other mental health professional. A little extra support during this season can make a big difference. Some resources:
- American Psychological Association
- Psychology Today
- Call your insurance company for a list of providers
- Ask your primary care provider for a list of referrals
- Simply search for “psychologist or counselor near me”
- If you need want to talk to someone immediately: National Suicide Hotline
DISCLAIMER: Please note that the information in this article is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for psychological or medical care. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, call 9-1-1.