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Is the month of December more trouble than it’s worth? Embrace these tips to find a calm and understanding of the holiday season.
Ah, the holidays are in full swing. The lovely sights of Christmas, the glory of Hanukkah, and the beauty of Kwanza; each of these celebrations—and more—lead us to the birth of the New Year. The spirit in the air is one of joy, delight, and anticipation.
Yet we can’t ignore the rather unfortunate truth that the holidays can also make us frazzled, frenetic, and downright depressed. With sparkling holiday festivities, towering mounds of gifts to be bought and wrapped, and brilliant lights aglow, you might ask, "Depression? During the holidays? How can that possibly be?"
Yet many of us know, all too well, a lurking feeling of dread during the holidays. Not wanting to be Scrooge or the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, we often put on a smile for the family, bear with unbearable in-laws, swipe the worn out credit card, and eat our way through the holidays. Although there are some parts of the holidays that we simply can’t alter, there is plenty that can be changed with a bit of skill and patience.
I use the evocative acronym G.I.F.T. as a reminder of the solid and simple tools that can turn the holidays into a time of true joy and delight. When you have your perfect G.I.F.T. front and center, you’ll find the holidays a much happier time!
"G" is for Generosity: Generosity—what a perfect way to show your best side this season (or any season for that matter). You might think, "My credit card is maxed out! I’ve already spent my next paycheck! How can I be any more generous?"
Just remember that generosity does not necessarily equate to giving financially. We can be generous with our time, our hearts, and our spirits. That’s the key to the holidays. If we take another look at what it truly means to be generous, we find that boxes of gifts do not fill our hearts. What fills our hearts with joy is time with each other. In the simple moments of decorating a tree, taking a family walk, or baking simple cookies together, we find a generosity of spirit. It is in these times that we slow down and remember that the holidays are a period of giving from within. While we might not remember another necklace or shirt, we will surely hold dear the times we spend sitting by the fire, playing games, and taking winter walks in the park. If you are tired of the same holiday banquets and bustle, options abound!
As a change, you can consider cooking or serving for a local food kitchen for the homeless or others who are in need. You might open your doors to invite single neighbors or shut-in elders to join your own table. Local nursing homes and hospitals often enjoy the delight of Christmas volunteers and carolers. If holiday finances are stressing you, think about making homemade gifts or "Christmas tokens" to be used for massages, candlelight dinners, or movie outings. Instead of just pulling out the wallet this season, be generous with your time and your heart; the changes both in you and in those you love will be magical and profound.
"I" is for Insightfulness: During the havoc of the holidays, it isn’t uncommon to feel so burdened by responsibilities that we feel frustrated and put upon. Weary and irritated, we can lash out at others, become petulant and demanding, or fume in silent martyrdom.
It’s in these moments that a "time out" of our own is most needed. Cookie baking can wait and the shopping can stop (for a moment and least). Whether you take a 20-minute bubble bath or a walk around the block, moments of quiet respite are essential during the busy holiday season. These times of quiet allow us to reflect on the source of whatever difficulty is plaguing you. You can allow your anxiety and stress to dissipate when you carve out a little bit of time to relax.
As a recent example, I was racing to leave for a holiday party this past Friday night, and my goofy hound dog escaped from the yard. Starting off on a frenetic search for him, I realized that I’d be terribly late for my party. It was pitch black outside, and Pup was not in sight. As the moments passed, I felt increasing helpless, worried, and upset. I stopped, pulled my car over to the side of the road, and became still. Once I did this, I realized—with a jolt of welcome insight—that it did not matter if I was late for the festivities. What mattered most was that I found my pup and that I remained calm in my search. A friend joined me, but our efforts were fruitless. I circled around the hilly neighborhood for the seventh time before driving slowly home. My heart was heavy, but I was calm.
Awaiting me in front of the garage, tail wagging in the chill of the December night, was my darling hound dog. Feeling unbelievably grateful and relieved, I hugged his neck, double-checked the gates, and scooted him safely inside. After a quick change, we were off to the party, Pup in tow. Although I was nearly two hours late, all was well.
The festivities were in progress, and I was absolutely delighted to be part of them—late or not. So, it is in those stressful moments that abound during this time of year that we can take a step back and remind ourselves of what is truly important. Whether you become stressed by the countless situations that can arise with friends, in-laws, family, or money, remember to take a time-out. Relax, do a peaceful and candid reality check, and let the insight flow! Your sanity and serenity are worth the time it takes to slow down and reflect.
"F" is for Forethought: The holidays seem to bring an abundance of lists. Lists of what to buy, who to buy for, places to go, favorites to eat, and people to see. The clamor and chaos can take a toll on even the most stoic of holiday lovers! This is where forethought steps in. Take a good half hour—carve it out during your lunch or before bed—and prioritize.
Make an objective list of what is most important to you during the holidays. Are their parties you can skip? Are their gift lists that can be pared down or finalized to lower your stress? Are there issues with family or in-laws that you want to address? With some planning and thought, you can address many of these issues in the quiet of your home before the holidays are in full swing.
This is the perfect time to talk with your loved ones—your wife, husband, or other loved ones—about little issues that can be caught before they become giant issues. Well before the big events set it, take the time to communicate about problematic issues. While we can’t anticipate every hiccup of the season, clear communication and loving negotiation can go a long way in addressing many holiday bumps and hurdles.
If you’ve haggled over dinner with in-laws, overspending, and party dos and don’ts, take the time to discuss these issues openly. With kindness, consideration, and loving respect, many of the biggest holiday stressors can be worked through with relative ease. Using awareness and forethought, many of my clients have successfully changed longstanding habits such as overly extravagant holiday spending. Through the use of thoughtful, purposeful communication, I’ve watched couples work out beautiful solutions to in-law and family challenges.
For example, big blowouts can be avoided by simple resolutions to alternate years (Christmas Eve with the in-law this year, Christmas Day with them next year). Forethought and a healthy dose of fairness go a long way to making the season happy and bright! Who knew it could be that easy?
"T" is for Tolerance: When it comes to the holidays, the kid in us can surely pop right up! We want it our way. We want our mother’s Christmas turkey. We want the tree to be decorated perfectly. We want the Hanukkah celebrations to be just so.
We want to celebrate New Year’s Eve the way that makes us smile! From the time we are children, we learn about the holidays through our families. We learn what we enjoy most—and what we don’t! It is the smells, the tastes, and the sights that rekindle our memories of good (and not-so-good) holidays of years gone by. As we mature, we often learn to appreciate new traditions and festivities. Yet, in many ways, many of us tend to enjoy the more familiar tradition.
Some of the issues fly under the radar for 11 months of the year; they are not a problem until the holidays arise, and then they really become a problem! While you might enjoy your dressing (aka stuffing) with raisins, apricots, and chestnuts, your husband may yearn for more traditional fare. In your parents’ home, gifts may have been opened on Christmas Eve, yet Christmas morning might be the ideal for your wife. And if traditions are blending (think Hanukkah and Christmas), the possibilities for discord seem endless. Understanding and tolerance go a long way here.
By putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes, it becomes much easier maneuver through the holidays. If you were asked to give up your eggnog or Christmas stocking, would it make you wince? If someone demanded that you eat fish instead of Christmas turkey, would you almost want to cry? If you miss your grandmother’s once-a-year pumpkin pie so much that you can taste it, would you be willing to give it up for your in-laws’ Jell-O salad? Did you unwrap a scarf and coat when you hoped for diamond earrings? Did she buy you socks and shoes when you wanted a new mountain bike? Situations like this might seem laughable on some level, but they can lead to deep hurt and blowouts. That’s why tolerance becomes so important during the holidays.
A tolerant outlook allows us to take a fairer and more objective attitude. When we work at being tolerant, we develop a respectful permissiveness coupled with a gentle leniency toward others. Try on and attitude of tolerance this year. Put yourself in the shoes (or slippers) of your loved ones. Open your heart, open your mind, and open your attitude. There are plenty of new joys waiting when your spirit is willing.
The holidays, with all their joys and rigors, can bring us to new heights in our marriages. By striving to create the G.I.F.T. in your life, the holidays—as well as your other days—can take on a new tone of peace and joy. My best wishes to you and yours for a joyful holiday season and a splendid New Year!
Dr. Carla Marie Greco has her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and a private practice in Santa Rosa, California. Dr. Greco specializes in the treatment of anxiety, trauma, depression, grief, and life transition issues. Her greatest goal is to offer services to those in need, offering select appointments on a "sliding scale" for those who have serious financial constraints. Pro bono services, including EMDR, are available for our veterans suffering from issues such as combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Complex PTSD. Dr. Greco is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Redwood Psychological Association. For more, visit www.drcarlagreco.com.
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