Like a lot of people, I have fond childhood memories of holidays. Bikes under the tree, making cookies, The Partridge Family Christmas album. (Maybe that last one is just me, or not. If you also loved this record, we need to talk!) Christmas seemed magical and fun. I say this because anytime I talk about the holidays being incredibly stressful and not all glitter and good cheer, people assume I must have had a miserable childhood that lacked Christmas magic, or that I hate Christmas. Neither is true, but as I’ve gotten older, that sense of magic has been replaced with trepidation.
But here’s the thing, I’ve learned that I am not alone in feeling stress and anxiety when I see those holiday decorations start to pop up earlier and earlier each year. I worked retail through 5 holiday seasons and when helping customers I often felt like a bartender listening to her regulars. Shoppers would unload all kinds of feelings about the holidays, feelings they felt more comfortable telling a total stranger.
If you are one of those people who can’t imagine anyone not loving the holidays, take a moment to think about these different scenarios.
Spending can be stressful.
Money can be a huge source of stress any time of the year, but that stress can be easier to manage without feeling external holiday pressure. People may be putting gifts on credit cards because money is tight, or buying gifts for people they don’t really care about. (Office Secret Santas, I’m talking to you, you’re the worst offender.)
Gift giving can be stressful.
Lots of people hate shopping, and while they love giving someone something perfect, going out to find something perfect one evening can be painful. Then there are also the gifts people feel obligated to give, which can bring up feelings of resentment.
Families can be stressful.
No family is perfect, and a lot of families are downright anxiety-inducing and come with years of baggage. Stressing about whether this person will do that, or say this, or behave that way can be something people worry about for weeks before the actual day. It’s also very sad missing those family members who have passed away.
Traveling can be stressful.
If you do not live near the people you celebrate with, it can be a big (and expensive) task just to get there. And this also means you never get to celebrate in your own home.
Relationships can be stressful.
Christmas ads often feature romantic scenes of couples ice skating and giving diamonds while a light snow falls under a full moon. There are plenty of couples not feeling the romance, and add to that some of the above life stress, and it can be a particularly painful.
Alcohol can be stressful.
Let’s face it, alcohol is usually a part of celebrating and if it’s not in your home, it is at least portrayed in advertising, shows, and movies. There are a lot of people trying to stay sober or struggling with alcohol. There are also a lot of families who have been affected by an alcoholic.
Traditions can be stressful.
I feel like this can be the hardest one to understand, as traditions can also be what makes the holidays so special. Some traditions endure, and that’s great, but some traditions feel forced or get permanently damaged over the years. What may have been a fun with a house of little kids, may not be fun with adult children. Going along with traditions that feel uncomfortable or outdated can cause impending dread, and also ruin the memories of when those traditions were fun.
For those who can’t fathom anyone being stressed this time of year, slow down, take a breath and try to be understanding to those who are. Fight the urge to call them Scrooge, the Grinch or make jokes about giving coal. Instead, see if you can offer help, or just an ear to listen.
For those who do feel stressed, you’re not alone. Remember, it’s ok to say no to parts of the holiday season you don’t enjoy any more. And saying no doesn’t mean you can’t say yes next year. Life is different year to year, and how you celebrate the holidays can be different too. Try to focus on what in particular is making the holidays stressful for you, and enjoy the parts of it that are still fun.