Image: Kevin & Amanda
Nothing can bring us together quite like the holidays. And nothing can tear us apart quite like them either. Seasons greetings can become glad it's only once a year in the twinkling of an eye. The family moments we hoped to cherish while sipping a hot cup of pumpkin spice latte can be replaced by binge watching Netflix alone while eating an entire pumpkin pie. Not what we had in mind. So, what happens to turn the holidays into stress-filled marathons of overdoing instead of opportunities for creating meaningful memories?
Too much of a good thing
I've identified what I believe to be the biggest reasons that stress dominates the holidays, and they all share one thing in common: too much of a good thing. Too much to do, too much to buy, too much to see, and too much to be. Taken in moderation, each of these factors has a lot to offer the Buddy the Elf inside all of us. But when we overdo, they turn on us and bring out our inner Scrooge.
1.) Too much to do. There's really no need to explain this one. We all have too much to do and not enough time to get it all done. If we don't learn to prioritize our time and energy, then we become victims of the demands that we place on ourselves and others. This leaves us feeling burned out, resentful, and disconnected from the spirit of the season.
2.) Too much to buy. The pressure we feel to buy the perfect gift for others can create an inner conflict that throws us into a state of anxiety and guilt. We look at the price tags and know we can't afford these things, but we buy them anyway. We can end up racking up debt that leaves us feeling financially overwhelmed and out of control.
3.) Too much to see. More people travel during the winter holidays than virtually any other time of year, with Thanksgiving being the busiest time of all. Fewer and fewer families live close to one another now, so spending time together means hitting the road or catching a flight. Adding to the stress of travel is the fact that many families plan activities as part of a larger holiday vacation, which can disrupt schedules, stretch the budget, and leaves less time for quality conversations.
4.) Too much to be. There are those of us who feel like we have to be everything to everyone during the holidays, and that can take a toll. The truth is that we can't possibly meet everyone else's needs or expectations of us, just like they can't meet all of ours. Plus, family dynamics from the ghost of Christmas past can force us into older versions of ourselves when parents, children, and friends aren't able to accept us for who we are today. This can make us want to head for the hills instead of the dinner table.
(To be fair, there are also other important factors that can cause holiday stress, such as painful losses, family dysfunction, and past trauma that are all heightened during the holiday season. Even so, understanding the four factors above can help us to reduce stress and experience a saner season.)
Taken in moderation, each of these things has a lot to offer the Buddy the Elf inside all of us. But when we overdo, they turn on us and bring out our inner Scrooge.
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