The Most Wonderful Time of Year!!!...Bah Humbug!!


'Tis the season to be jolly... Fa-La-La-La Let's talk about the holiday season shall we?  For years I have noticed the day after we put our Halloween costumes away, the Christmas music and decorations start up.  COME ON, REALLY?!?!? I just finished watching Night of the Living Dead and now It's a Wonderful Life?!?!  Can we take a little break and enjoy Fall for a little longer?  I mean, we haven't even had Thanksgiving yet!  And don't get me started about Thanksgiving...Ok, I'm getting started...I understand Black Friday has been around for awhile, but why does it have to start ON Thanksgiving???  The one holiday that traditionally has been a gathering of friends and family to enjoy food (and football) with no expectations other than maybe bring a dish, and keep Uncle Bob from whizzing in the fireplace.  

Are the stores really making that much of a difference getting "into the black" by opening ON Thanksgiving Day?? (Yeah I'm talking to you, Kmart, JC Penney, Target, Sears, to name a few).  I find that hard to believe, but what I can believe is it changes the dynamic of what Thanksgiving should be about: an expression of gratitude.  I know that concept is lost by most of us, but if we were more grateful we may also be more tolerant and accepting of others.  


To me, Thanksgiving is really "pre-Christmas"; it's the dress rehearsal to see how everyone behaves before opening night/day.  It's for testing which pants you'll be able to wear for eating on Christmas day.  It's when we look through the circulars before dessert to map out the Black Friday shopping route.  It's for finalizing everybody's wish list so we can get the stuff cheap on Friday.  It's for testing out everyone's alcohol tolerance!! (I'll come back to that..."blackout Wednesday" anyone?)

Some people have their Christmas tree and decorations up...BEFORE Thanksgiving!!  Yeah you know who you are 😉...gimme a call sounds like you need some professional assistance.  In our house, we typically put the tree up and decorate on the Saturday/Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend...AFTER Thanksgiving Day (and Black Friday) is over. Come on, give Thanksgiving its due!! I'm ok with holiday music starting on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but before???  😕 Not necessary...


I know I know, BAH HUMBUG! I'm such a Grinch..."WAH Get over it, It's Christmas!"  I hear you people and I understand why you may be upset.  The twinkling lights, the tree, the ornaments, Bing Crosby, Santa, and the partridge (aww David C. RIP) in a pear tree.  A wonderful time of year to spend with family and friends, exchanging gifts, and making memories.  Yes it fills people with glee...but not everybody.  

For many, the holiday season is depressing and stressful.  The holidays remind people of those they have lost, parents, grandparents, close friends...people who they have spent a lifetime with during the holidays, creating and continuing traditions that lasted for many years.  What happens then?  That feeling of loss can be more pronounced, and deep sadness can set in, leading to isolation and self-medication (alcohol abuse, overeating, etc.)

How about those folks who do not have family or close friends, whether through estrangement, or loss, or geography...isolation and depression is very prominent with them as well.  The stress of these factors at this time of year (or as it approaches) can exacerbate anxiety and depressive symptoms. 


For the majority of people, stress during the holidays is just a fact of life, right?  You just know that it is going to be hectic, you will be sleep deprived, and broke.  According to a survey by the  Consumer Reports National Research Center, they identified 11 things Americans dread about the holiday season:


  1. Crowded or long lines: 68% of the people surveyed
  2. Gaining weight: 37% of the people surveyed
  3. Getting into debt:  37%
  4. Gift shopping:  28%
  5. Traveling:  25%
  6. Seeing certain relatives:  24%
  7. Seasonal music: 23%
  8. Disappointing gifts:  19%
  9. Having to attend holiday parties or events:  16%
  10. Having to be nice:  15%
  11. Holiday tipping:  12%

What do you think about this list, would you add anything?  


The "disappointing gifts" one caught my eye.  I would say that is for the giver AND receiver of the gift.  You spend all this time picking out the perfect gift for someone and when they open it you don't get the reaction you were expecting.  How disappointing is that?  That happens with kids all the time, right?  "Oh man, I got clothes", or "That's the wrong game, I'm not into Pokemon anymore!!"😠 Come here kid, I'll give you a Pokemon right in the....excuse me, sorry I was having a flashback there!  Sometimes it is the receiver who has to fake like he/she likes the gift to avoid hurting the giver's feelings.  I could comment on each one of those but I'm sure you have your own experiences and post-traumatic stress reactions that go with them.  


When our stress level gets significantly higher during the holidays, our ability to cope with stress is tested.  Addictive behaviors can be present in full force; self-medicating tools that cause more problems, leading to stress and depressive symptoms.    We sometimes avoid dealing with some holiday stressors by creating new ones.  The main ones are abusing alcohol, overeating, and overspending. The increase in stress mixed with alcohol can lead to intense conflicts with family members, DUIs, violent behavior, and injury.  


So, how do we get through the holidays feeling Jolly and not Scroogy??  The Mayo Clinic put out the following tips to prevent holiday stress and depression:

  • Acknowledge your feelings:  If you have experienced a loss, or there are reminders of the loss, don't hold it in, take the time to address those feelings, it's ok
  • Reach out:  If you feeling lonely or isolated, reach out to people in your community.  Better yet, volunteer your time for the less fortunate...yes there is someone less fortunate than you
  • Be realistic:  Not everything will turn out perfectly.  Do not set high expectations, let things happen and enjoy being "in the moment"
  • Set aside differences:  Accept family members as they are, set aside differences to a better time to discuss, and also be understanding that they may be dealing with other issues at that time.
  • Stick to a budget:  Do your best to set an amount you are able to spend on each person and stick closely to that.
  • Plan ahead:  Try to set up time to do shopping, baking, decorating, etc so that you are not doing things at the last minute.  That will most definitely increase your stress level, and most likely lead to something going wrong.
  • Learn to say NO:  Well, we have been here before.  You cannot make everybody happy, you need to set limits.  This is your holiday too.
  • Don't abandon healthy habits:  I am trying my best on this one.  Don't make the holidays an excuse to have a free-for-all with the eating and drinking.  Sample things, don't overindulge.  Get enough sleep, exercise regularly
  • Take a breather:  You gotta relax!!  You can take 15 minutes to sit down and reflect on things, or just have some egg nog and watch Christmas Vacation!
  • Seek professional help if needed:  Even during the holiday season, my clients need a place to de-stress because it gets overwhelming sometimes.  If you notice you are really stressed out or feeling depressed, or isolating yourself, you may want to have a session or two with a counselor. 



Yes, I said HAPPY HOLIDAYS!! Not everyone celebrates Christmas.  Christmas isn't an umbrella term, it does not cover all those who are celebrating this holiday season.   "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings" does.  There is no other way to look at that so those folks who have a problem with people saying Happy Holidays, they too may have some really serious issues they need professional help for.  Didn't I just get done talking about how difficult this time of year can be for some people?  Put your differences aside and embrace your fellow man (or woman, but not inappropriately), for it is supposed to be a peaceful time for all. 



So, If it's Merry Christmas for you that is totally fine.  If it's Happy Chanukah for you, that's totally fine.  If it's Happy Kwanzaafor you that's totally fine.  If it's Happy Festivus...well... you catch my drift?!?!?!  It is whatever you want it to be, and no one can tell anyone else otherwise!  


But first,


All the best to you and yours this holiday season!

-Scott Pace

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