Once again, the holidays are upon us. What is a festive season for many can be a miserable time of high drama and anxiety for others.

Family pulling sledInterestingly, much of the holiday angst we experience is self-inflicted because our fear of going against tradition and social expectation is immense. Nobody likes to be a crabby “Grinch.” The unavoidable pull to comply with the obligations of the holidays is highly influential to say the least. Add these expectations to the already stressful demands of your home and career and you increase your risk of experiencing frustration and disappointment.

But the holidays do not have to be stressful. If we open up our minds a little and heighten our awareness to how blindly we can tend to subscribe to holiday dogma, we may be able to alter our reaction to it. So, if indeed the drama is partly self-inflicted, then we have the power to take control of our holiday experience.

Here is some advice to help you take control:

1) Let go of perfectionism and the need for control.

Don’t expect family gatherings to go smoothly where everyone gets along perfectly all the time; it’s an impossible prospect. The same goes for holiday decorations, travel arrangements and buying the perfect gift for everyone, etc. Accept nothing will go perfectly, because it rarely does. Accept you do not need to control your family or anyone else.

2) Don’t try to be someone you are not.

Don’t feel obliged to be merry and cheerful all the time. The pressure to behave a certain way can create a lot of undue stress and make you feel guilty. If you are “feeling down” during the holidays, try to be cordial with family and friends without trying to fake it. There is no reason to act falsely cheerful and in contrast, no reason to be a “Grinch.” If you can, focus on the positives of the holidays and remain as neutral as possible.

3) Don’t try to do everything.

You don’t need to be a superhero. Don’t say “yes” all the time when you really mean “no.” You will end up overextending or over-committing with too many obligations. This may cause you to become overwhelmed. In reality, no one is keeping score except, perhaps, you. Set realistic expectations regarding obligations, how much time you spend with family, etc. Set clear boundaries and limits with others about what you can and cannot do. It’s okay to say “no” sometimes, you cannot satisfy everyone all the time.

4) Don’t romanticize past holidays.

Don’t fall into the trap of comparing past holidays to current ones. When you compare, you despair and it will undoubtedly lead to holiday blues. Don’t dwell on good times from the past which cannot be recaptured. Since you are not going in that direction, there is no reason to keep looking back. Accept and acknowledge as the years pass, rituals and traditions change, family members move away, loved ones pass on, etc. The past is in the past. Every year it will be a little different, and this is okay.

5) Don’t set yourself up for failure.

Don’t set yourself up for major disappointment by making too many “New Year’s” resolutions you won’t achieve or aim too high for unrealistic major changes in your life. Set smaller and more attainable goals. For example, “I want to lose weight next year” is too broad and not easily measurable. Instead, “By April 15, I am going to lose 10 pounds,” is more achievable. Write your New Year’s goals down on paper or tell a fiend who can act as an accountability partner. The likelihood of actually achieving goals increases if you transfer the idea from thought to paper ­ or to friend. Keep the list close and refer to it daily.

6) Don’t lose sight of the true message of the holidays.

Many of us end up “hating” the holidays partly because we forget the true nature of the season. In actuality, the holiday season is really more about reconnecting with friends and family and being good to each other. It has little to do with exotic spending, perfectionism and looking happy all the time. If we forget this fundamental detail, the holidays become a stressful, expensive, obligatory exercise we all have to grudgingly plow through every year.

And lastly, limit alcohol consumption and other mood-altering substances. If you are depressed during the holidays and you are drinking alcohol, you are treating depression with a depressant. Instead, do something positive; get outside and go for a walk, volunteer to help the less fortunate or spend quality time with your loved ones.

We can help.

For some, the holidays can be a depressing time. Feelings of sadness, loneliness and anger can intensify when contrasted with the joy expected of the holidays. If you or a family member are feeling down now, or anytime of the year, contact us for free and confidential professional support.

Call VITAL WorkLife, 24x7x365, for the support you and your loved ones need.

VITAL WorkLife EAP Members call 800.383.1908.

Physician Wellness Resources members call 877.731.3949.

About VITAL WorkLife

VITAL WorkLife, Inc.™ is a national behavioral health consulting company providing support to individuals facing life’s challenges, while also assisting organizations in improving workplace productivity. We have deep experience in healthcare, especially assisting physicians and providers in dealing with the challenges in their profession. This approach of helping employees and their families, while also guiding organizations, builds healthy, sustainable behaviors. For over 30 years, we have offered industry leading Employee Assistance Programs, specialized support, training and consulting for a wide variety of industries.

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