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Holidays and the blues: Overcoming past and present holiday stresses

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Michael Husfelt
  • 627th Air Base Group
"It's the most wonderful time of the year" isn't just a familiar line of a classic Christmas song. Instead, the phrase resonates with our culture because November and December offer times of splendor and recollection unlike any other time.

Things like trips to grandmother's house for Thanksgiving, early morning shopping trips the next day to find those one-of-a-kind bargains, decorating our homes and offices to reflect the seasonal joy, and numerous opportunities to connect at our places of worship all combine to make this particular time of the year the one which is filled with powerful memories and unwritten, and sometimes unreachable, expectations.

So why the connection with concerns of stress and even suicide?

Obviously, that question is too deep for a brief commentary, but I do offer a few thoughts on how this joyous season sometimes stresses out even the jolliest among us, and why it is important to proactively work against the holiday blues. So if you want to experience a joyous holiday season without all the unwanted stress, here are a few suggestions.

First, take control where you can, and develop a list of this year's seasonal goals. Think about what you want to experience, accomplish and feel.

What will help you get there?

If you want a simple "old-fashioned Christmas," because last year was just too artificial for you, then maybe decorating the house with every item on the market should be left for your neighbor. If you want to make it through the party season and still look good in your clothes, limit the amount of festive foods and work hard at maintaining your gym regimen.

The point is that you probably know what is most important to you about the holiday season. So take the time to figure out the best way to make what is most important to you a reality.

Second, temper your expectations. You don't have to attend every Christmas party (or every special worship service for that matter) that you hear about. You don't have to buy a gift for everyone you meet. Decorating your home with simple or loud seasonal symbols can be very uplifting, but you don't have to use every plug in the house to make the season bright. Though competition with neighbors can be fun, I do think this is one area where it really shouldn't be a competition.

Third, take charge of your money. Spending outside of your budget is another area which adds to the holiday stress. If budget is a dirty word to you, try using "spending plan" instead.

It may be a little too late to entirely implement this year, but if you are still planning to buy more gifts and host more parties, developing a reasonable and affordable spending plan can save you tons of stress. Develop a list and spending limit to help you feel more in control and make wiser shopping decisions. The stress relief will continue over the next couple of months as the credit card bills come due and you actually have the money to pay them off.

Fourth, develop a spirit of grace for yourself and those around you. For instance, if your parents or other significant family members still bring up the time when you didn't live up to their expectations, try not to repeat the same family argument again this year. This could be the perfect time to proactively engage and where appropriate confess your sins to one another.

Ask forgiveness, forgive if you need to, including forgiving yourself, encourage restoration and move on. If the offended party isn't ready to forgive, you can't control that, but you can control your attitude as they deal with their own. Don't escalate the situation. Don't debate. A simple, "I am really sorry you feel that way, but I hope you will learn to forgive me as I have forgiven myself (or as I have forgiven you)" may be the best response.

Whether you are a person of faith or not, December should be a time of hope, for all, that disappointments of the past are behind us and the dawn of a new year is just around the corner.
This truth can be hard to see if you feel out of control. Try implementing the suggestions above and you should feel better. However, if you still feel more blue than joyous, please remember that we have a network of helping agencies ready and willing to help you find reasons to keep on living. The chaplain corps is here to help and will also help you find additional resources to overcome whatever is taking away your joy this holiday season. If you need more information, please give your chaplain a call.