It’s amazing that Christmas has always been described as one of the most beautiful, magical, and divine holidays of the year. This time of the year often opens the heart of many strangers to the needs of others. Homelessness, world hunger, giving and sharing, love, and joy are just a few words that are frequently used during this time of the year. People are so much more conscious of the needs of others and are more willing to spread love and warmth. But sadly, Christmas time can also bring a great deal of stress, primarily for individuals who have struggled with income, family relationships, a marriage or parent-child relationship, hunger, homelessness, medical conditions, and mental illness among many other things. For the stressed and the oppressed, Christmas only reminds them of the daily pressures they have to cope with. This article will explore some of the common issues that occur around this time of year and offer ways to cope.
I decided to record my thoughts for those who aren’t so happy about Christmas this year. This article is for those who are struggling and/or who are facing quite a scary and uncertain New Year. Christmas, for me, has always been a beautiful time of the year to reflect and show the greatest amount of gratitude for life, love, good health, and things we tend to take for granted. My faith is also more freely expressed and embraced during this time as well. But I’ve noticed that there are people who do not feel this way and who would rather ignore Christmas Day and never acknowledge it. I have worked in a variety of non-profit agencies, hospitals, clinics, and schools where kids have been abandoned by their families, given over to foster or shelter care, and are struggling with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder during this time of year. These kids and their families would rather not be sucked into the “holiday spirit” because for many of them, there is nothing to celebrate, nothing to look forward to, nothing to hope for. Sadly, many kids, primarily those who are receiving inpatient care (e.g., hospitals, residential facilities, or 28-30day programs) are not going home for December 25th and may not see their families until next year or maybe never. Even more, many of these same kids do not hear from or receive visits from their families on December 25th. The agencies that house these kids are relying on the generous donations of churches, nonprofit agencies, or caring individuals to help give these individuals a real Christmas. Thank God for these people! For individuals who are homeless, suffer from severe mental illness, and lack family support, the holiday is a time of stress, remorse, depression, suicidal thoughts, self-injury, or flashbacks of severe abuse, neglect, or some other kind of suffering. Christmas is a reminder of what these individuals do not have and of what they have always wanted.
If we keep these individuals in the forefront of our minds this holiday season (and many more holiday seasons to come), we can add a touch of kindness, a heartfelt donation, a hug, a smile, a handshake, a prayer, a pat on the back, etc. to make the lives of these hurting individuals so much better. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Below you can find 5 ways to cope (or help someone else cope) with the holiday stress that often ends with a depressed mood, increased levels of stress, and anxiety. Some things to consider include:
- Having a trusted friend, crisis support line, or family member “on-call”: As strange as this may sound, it is sometimes necessary to confide in a trusted family member, friend, or crisis support service about how Christmas time negatively affects you or a loved one. For example, if you are a parent and have a child with schizophrenia, it might be helpful to inform someone of the fact that Christmas time is usually hectic and may trigger symptoms in your loved one. By telling someone about potential challenges, you are enlisting them to help you in case of a crisis.
- Limiting the amount of parties you attend: I don’t know about you, but if I attend too many holiday parties I lose track of the real meaning of Christmas. I also lose my enthusiasm for the holiday as well because everything just seems so meaningless, lifeless, boring, stressful, and even forced. Corporate parties can also be the worst. Family gatherings with friends or family who get drunk, spread rumors, cause drama, or instigate can also be the worst. Try to choose the holiday gatherings that will actually make you feel good about going. If you have to attend a corporate party, try to stay for a while and leave. You don’t have to stay the entire time unless it is “mandated” by the company. If it’s a party for friends and family, try to stick close to the individuals you can actually engage with during the party. The hardest thing for me has always been trying to communicate with people I don’t mesh with, enjoy speaking to, or are intrigued by.
- Avoid getting wrapped up in commercialism: Sometimes just the stress and strain of trying to mimic holiday movies we’ve seen or traditions we know about can be one of the most stressful things we can experience. Unfortunately, some people are so wrapped up in the fantasy of Christmas that they strive to have a Christmas that is “perfect.” There is no such thing as “perfect.” It is so much more meaningful to strive to make your holiday as authentic and as beautiful as you can make it without trying to be something you are not. I’ve had many families come to me after the holiday stating that their holiday was not nearly as wonderful as they had hoped it be. Just allow things to be as they are. No trying, no pressure, no stress.
- Stopping yourself from overspending: If you are a person who (or know someone who) tends to get caught up in the spirit of Christmas so much that perspective is lost on priorities and responsibilities, you are probably aware of the depression, worry, and anxiety that can occur after Christmas. Christmas is a wonderful time of the year but “post-Christmas depression” is a real thing for many people. To protect against “post-Christmas depression” you should avoid overspending. Write a note of the necessities, take someone shopping with you that can hold you accountable, or prepare ahead of time what you are shopping for and try to stick to your goals. The most important thing you want to keep in mind is that Christmas is ONE day. Spend enough to make your holiday beautiful with those you love, but do not go overboard. You will regret it later.
- Avoiding alcohol: I’ve heard many people say “I drink responsibly” or “don’t worry, I’m only having one.” As great as these two statements sound, we cannot allow ourselves to believe that 1 drink will never result in aggression, lack of restraint or impulsivity, and foolish behavior. A former client once told me of her Christmas party with her mother and how her uncle got so drunk the family had to have the police remove him from their home. Sadly, this uncle had 1 beer and a small glass of wine. Whether you believe it or not, alcohol is alcohol and it changes your behavior in more ways than one.
If you stick to these basic principles, you are likely to get through Christmas with less stress. I want to leave you with a thought-provoking quote shared with me by a client who suffers depression during this time of year:
Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart. A humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor. -Marianne Williamson