The end-of-year holidays often bring additional stress factors as well as good cheer. Clinical psychologist and author Dr. Jacqueline Simon Gunn offers five tips for reducing stress during the holidays in relation to financial concerns and family get-togethers.
Limited or reduced income is already stressful but may be exacerbated during the holidays because gift giving is a primary ritual.
Tip: For family gatherings, introduce the idea of drawing a name so that each member of the family would only have to purchase a gift for one person. This way, the gift-giving tradition continues and no one has to over-extend themselves financially. If someone in the family feels that this approach is cheapening the gift-giving tradition, be prepared to take a family vote with the majority deciding whether there will be a name draw or not. If the decision becomes that gifts should be given to all family members decide to keep gifts to a $30 maximum. Having limited finances can cause one to feel shame, so remember to be sensitive to this when making the family decision.
Buying gifts also can generate stressful and frenzied conditions.
Tip: Don't wait for the last minute. Start shopping early to prevent feeling frantic as the holidays get closer and to prevent making costly purchases because you feel you're running out of time. Shopping online is also a great way to eliminate the stress of waiting in lines in crowed stores with other frantic people. If you lack the confidence to believe that you can find the perfect gift for someone, remember that a gift card is always a good choice. If you know where a family member likes to shop or dine out, get a gift card from a particular place. If not, an American Express gift card is always a good choice. Don't put yourself in the situation of guessing what the intended would like. Receiving a gift you don't like can cause embarrassment requiring the recipient to take an "as if they like it" false appearance and offer a disingenuous "thank you."
Feelings of loneliness and isolation can be grossly exacerbated if one has little or no family.
Tip: "Isolation during the holidays is deeply painful and can exacerbate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other interpersonal difficulties," says Dr. Gunn. As a reflection of the giving and sharing that characterizes the holiday season, invite someone with little or no family to your gathering. Make them feel part of the family by having them participate in bringing a dish of food, and having the family pitch in to buy them a gift. "I have seen many isolated patients actually have a sense of elation once they receive an invitation and realize they will not be alone during the holidays."
The pressure and sense of obligation to spend time with family members with whom one does not necessarily get along can create tremendous anxiety and stress.
Tip: Be aware of your feelings, and make decisions on whom to spend time with based on your genuine feelings rather than a sense of obligation. If it is too difficult to say "no" to a family get together, consider a long weekend getaway that will make it impossible to accept the invitation. Yes, this might seem like avoidance, but the family conflict and resentment that can be exacerbated by having to be somewhere one has no desire to be will be reduced and make the holiday more enjoyable for everyone. It is not necessarily avoidance, but rather a constructive choice, insofar as one is aware of the pressures of having to fake enjoyment.
Deciding who is hosting and recognize that the host's preparation can be very stressful.
Tip: Rotating the hosting duties for holidays each year can relieve this stress. The host's stressful preparation can be greatly reduced by having each guest bring a separate dish. This way, everyone is working together to make the day special while also taking the pressure off the host to do all the cooking and preparation. If it's your turn to host this year and you're in a reduced earning income situation, have the family members who are not currently suffering financial difficulties bring the more expensive dishes. Keep in mind that issues around finances can really evoke shame and a sense of failure - two very painful affective experiences. All family members need to aware of this, and they should offer to bring the more expensive food without pointedly expressing that they know the host can't afford as much.
Dr. Jacqueline Simon Gunn is a clinical psychologist and author with a private practice in Manhattan where she specializes in trauma, eating disorders, alternative lifestyles, interpersonal problems, sports psychology, and a variety of other psychological disorders. She also works as a consultant conducting intake interviews and psychological evaluations for prospective adoptive parents. Visit www.drjacquelinegunn.com for more information.