Holiday Stress: A Resourceful Survivor’s Guide
Here’s your chance to enjoy a serene Christmas—or Ramadan or Kwanzaa or Hanukkah
The holidays are supposed to be joyous occasions marked by meaningful traditions, family connections, spiritual rejuvenation and just plain fun. Instead, for many people, they’re hectic times filled with stress, depression and shiny new possessions that won’t be paid off until March.
“It’s no small feat to try to fit a whole year’s worth of passion and generosity into a couple of days,” says Mariana Caplan, M.A., a counselor from Fairfax, California. Add family conflicts, time constraints and budget concerns, and you’ve got a recipe for temporary insanity.
There are plenty of signs that Scroogitis is epidemic. Consider the emergence of holiday stress management workshops and books. “I don’t know that many people who look forward to the holidays for any reason other than having time off from work,” says Caplan, author of When Holidays Are Hell…! A Guide to Surviving Family Gatherings (Hohm Press). “Holidays are all about rituals, and rituals are meant to create meaning for people. Nowadays, though, holidays often revolve around obligations, expectations, and meaningless going through the motions.” It’s no wonder that people often end up feeling tired and disappointed rather than renewed.
“It’s no small feat to try to fit a whole year’s worth of passion and generosity into a couple of days.”
An October 2000 survey on this issue was conducted for Xylo, a company that sets up private Web-based networks to meet the lifestyle needs of corporate employees. In a national random sample of 625 employed adults, the most often cited sources of holiday stress or anxiety were shopping, lack of time and expense. Despite the stereotype that most of the burden falls on women, the survey found that the sexes reported feeling nearly equal amounts of pressure. For example, 25% of women named gift shopping as their top stressor, compared to 20% of men.
But how bad can it get? A 1999 study, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, found a sharp increase in the number of cardiac deaths starting around Thanksgiving and rising steadily until around New Year’s Day, when the number dropped off again. Previous researchers have found similar trends, which they sometimes attributed to cold weather. However, the death records analyzed for this study came from sunny Southern California. Robert Kloner, MD, PhD, lead author of the study, thinks it’s very possible that the holidays may play a role. “Not only are many people under more stress, but they also may overindulge. They tend to eat more food, drink more alcohol and take in more salt this time of year” Says Kloner.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Below, several experts offer advice on finding a remedy for the “bah, humbug!” bug.