Some people take the season head-on, putting up the holiday decorations before the Thanksgiving dishes have grown cold. Others go with the flow and brave the mall crowds at the last minute.

Some just wish the whole season would go away. No matter what your style, a little planning and preparation will make it easier to cope with holiday stress.

“The key is to be proactive,” said Ron Bale Ph.D., staff psychologist at Community Memorial Hospital and a private practice since 1979. “If you know that the holidays are a difficult time for you, get together with a close friend and bounce some ideas off them.”

The temptation to overdo is a lot stronger during the holidays. There are so many choices and so many expectations that it’s easy to overeat, overspend or simply run yourself ragged trying to keep up with the festivities. Decide ahead of time how you want to celebrate the season. Share your plan with your family or a friend who can help you stick with it.

Include Others

Holiday stress is magnified for people who are alone, especially those who are newly alone. “Planning is especially important for people in these situations,” Bale pointed out. “Someone who has just lost a spouse or who is newly divorced may have never had to plan how they were going to spend the holidays.”

If you know that you will be alone, don’t be afraid to ask friends if you can take part in their celebration. Many churches, synagogues and social clubs welcome people who are on their own for the holidays.

“I would encourage all of us to look around and see who is alone during this time of year,” suggested Bale, “and include them on our list of who we invite to gatherings. Most people would prefer to spend the holidays with someone else.”

Make Space For Solitude

Of course, some people actually prefer quiet times to the mad bustle of Christmas shopping or the noisy celebration of New Year’s Eve. If you’re one of these people, tell others firmly but gently that you would like to celebrate the season your own way, with peace and quiet. On the other hand, you may have a friend or family member who needs some alone time. The best thing you can do is give them permission to spend the holiday solitude.

Dr. Bale told about a member of his family who went through a very big loss on Christmas day. The trappings and traditions of Christmas brought back memories that were too painful, so she found her own way to celebrate the day. “She spent the day feeding the homeless. The family was very supportive of her decision she was invited to gatherings, but nobody pressured her.”

No Wrong Way to Celebrate

“People get the idea that they didn’t have the right kind of Christmas tree or the proper lights and feel that somehow they are “doing it wrong,”” said Bale. One of the most stressful parts of the holidays is the pressure to be happy. It gives people the sense that they are failing when they don’t feel merry and bright.

“It’s important to let yourself experience the whole range of feelings that come up during the holidays,” noted Bale. “Holidays are an opportunity to reflect and review, not just on the good things but on everything that has happened in the past year.”

Adam

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