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Handling The Stress of the 2008 Holiday Season

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Traditionally, the Christmas Holidays have meant people going shopping and spending lots of money to buy gifts for children, friends and family. Everyone was accustomed, pleasantly but mostly unpleasantly to handling bills accumulated during the spending spree for all of those presents. However, this year is different for almost everyone. 

As we enter the Christmas Holiday season of 2008 many families are faced with a sharply diminished capacity to spend money shopping for gifts. Many people have suffered terrible losses such as their: 1. Homes due to mortgage foreclosures, 2. Jobs because of companies going out of business, 3. Life savings and investments due to the stock market. Wishing to be in the holiday spirit there is a temptation to use credit cards to make purchases for the immediate gratification of th gift giving that characterizes the holidays. However, if people gratify the impulse to spend when they do not have cash, they will face extreme pain, like never before,  after the New Year when the bills come due and there is  an inability to pay creditors for the purchases. This will add considerably to the suffering that is occurring right now. Are there ways to avert the terrible anxiety from having added to the list of bills due? The answer is yes, but it calls for some self control and calm thinking and planning.

Stephanie S. Smith, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist with the Front Range Psychological Associates of Colorado, and her colleagues, suggest some of these ideas to reduce stress during this season.

1. None of us can control the economy or the stock market but we can take charge of our health and diet. Maintain your level of exercise. There is a tendency to stop exercise programs because of all the parties to attend and all the shopping to be done. Along with this, control what you eat and be moderate when going to parties. In fact, say no to certain parties. There is no need to attend everyone and going to all of them gets "pretty old fast."

2. Set a strict budget and stay with it even if it hurts. Maintain a shopping list that includes expenditures so that you are not faced with a shock after the New Year. Be certain that the budget will be such that the post holiday season will not come as a financial shock.

3. Talk openly and honestly with friends and relatives about your financial situation. With the economy the way it is there is no shame in telling friends and family that "I cannot buy gifts this season because I do not have a job, or the money and means to do so." Tell people that gifts will be given but only to children under fifteen years old and tell children that Santa is not bringing as many presents this year.

4. There are many activities that are fun during the holidays but cost nothing. Even if you have a job, engage in some volunteer work. Volunteering helps everyone feel really good and provides a sense of enhanced self esteem for what has been done. It’s a "win-win" type of thing.

5. Give your self time for you self through such things as meditation, yoga, listening to soft and pleasing music or any type of activity that feels good.

6. If you drink at parties, use moderation and refrain from driving drunk. Avoid drinking to excess.

7. Same idea with regard to food: eat foods during this season, in moderation.

8. Instead of purchasing new clothes for the holiday parties use what was worn last year. That can save a lot of money. This way it is possible to attend the party and engage in the spirit of the season.

9. Have a holiday party devoted to everyone trading away the clothes they hate or no longer want. One person’s ugly sweater is often another person’s beautiful garment.

10. If you find comfort in religion, go to Church, Synagogue, Mosque. Or, if you wish, get in touch with your sense of spirituality and meditation can help do that.

11. If you remain feeling bad during or after the holiday, see a therapist. It could be that only a couple of sessions will help you recover your sense of balance.

12. Many people feel a sense of loss or emptiness after the excitement of Christmas and New Years celebrations. I always recommend that people give themselves something to look forward to. It could be having a get together with family and friends but, whatever it is, there is no need to spend money and there are many satisfying things to do.

As stated earlier, the idea is to foster an attitude that you have control over many aspects of your life. It always feels better to know that you have control than to feel left feeling helpless.

Have a great holiday season, but keep things in perspective. If you are struggling with finances, jobs, and moods, you are not alone and do not hesitate to ask for help.

How do cope with the holidays? Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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