Some friends are familiar with a chronic condition that is sometimes said to be “a three-part disease: physical, mental, and spiritual.” Beginning about this time of year, the joke around that campfire is that the three parts are “Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.” Laughing like that is a good beginning.

But if holiday stress were really only a joke, then why would the most respected medical resources publish guidance on how to deal with it? To use a common but very unattractive expression, holiday stress is “as real as a heart attack.” So, let’s take a few moments to improve our chances of enjoying this holiday season and remembering it fondly.

The Mayo Clinic assembled 10 tips for coping with holiday stress. They begin with recognizing your own feelings. Expectations can play a hazardous role, too. Living up to memories is impossible, because people die, people move, relationships change. When the holidays are seen as a marker of what’s missing, a new chapter in grief or adjustment can unfold. Accepting this life as it is today plays a big role – a beginning role – in the advice we get from Mayo Clinic.

The celebrated Cleveland Clinic offers suggestions for management and treatment – yes, they use the word treatment – for holiday stress. An interesting beginning is their suggestion to “try something new.” Traditions have more than enough support during the holiday season, and doing something that’s not rooted in the past might be just the break you need. Along with their answers to “What are the holiday blues?” Cleveland Clinic inadvertently offers a kind of inventory of questions to consider. Rather than reading their bullet-points as answers, we might ask ourselves, “Am I experiencing this?”

Another set of authoritative suggestions is from Stanford University. We see expectations again, at the core of their proposals for “surviving the family holiday.”

The Paradox of Celebration

What we can do to make the difference between a holiday season we’ll remember with warmth and satisfaction, and one about which we might say, “I’m glad that’s over.” The paradox itself – these two looming possibilities – is the source of much holiday stress. On one hand, the coming season conjures images of love and togetherness and traditions, and generations of memories that nourish our lives even more than the celebrated holiday fare.

On the other hand, our holidays seem to bring demands that are hard to meet, and easy to regret when we feel we may have fallen short. The tendency for the holiday season to bring stress with it is not a small or isolated matter. It’s not just you (or your aunt, or your grandpa, or your mother-in-law). Holiday stress is so widespread and distinct that it has all the markings of a threat to health and wellbeing.

So Hard to Outgrow

Psychology Today traced hidden sources of holiday stress. Of the more unusual insights in its findings was the feeling of being seen through. The observation was that, no matter how hard one has worked to grow and develop, they may feel they are seen the way they were in the old days when they gather back with the family for the holidays. Being seen “the way you were” and expected to relive certain sentiments and to live up to certain standards set long ago in simpler times – it’s a formidable prospect that many of us face as the year draws to a close.

As a family medical practice our lives are dedicated to helping you get the most out of your life, at the holidays and all through the year. Just call us at 843-815-6468.