The Holiday Stress Factor

Amidst all the holiday happiness and family celebrations and gift giving and decadent food eating there is the stress factor. It exists in the corner of our mind where we’ve shoved it to deal with later. We never totally forget that it is there for it is always in our peripheral vision. Plus, of course, it demands to be noticed, sometimes with nagging whispers and other times with bold cries. We wish it would just go away and we make some effort toward that end.

We remind ourselves how thankful we should be to which we earnestly reply back to ourselves that yes, we should be and yes, we are. We remind ourselves of those with less. We declare ourselves ‘too blessed to be stressed’. We press on to do the next thing, cook the next dish, attend the next event. All the while stress seems to increase as our wherewithal decreases. Finally, we find ourselves teetering at the edge of a melt down and scolding ourselves for feeling the way we are feeling.

Mercy, what a mess. What a mess of jumbled emotions and fears and anxieties and expectations. If you are one of the rare few who have not experienced the stress I am describing, I’m tempted to say, your day is coming. And, admittedly, that is not being said in the encouraging manner in which I often say those same words.

Why are we stressed? What about the holidays seems to magnify the messes of our lives and amplify the disappointments we are experiencing?

I am put in mind of a line from an old movie called ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’. The main character, Millie, at one point, early in the movie says something like this. “I built up such a store of dreams. Dreams about love and marriage and such.” She was disappointed because reality didn’t measure up to those ‘store of dreams’.

I believe the same could be said about us many times. No couple dreams of infertility and childlessness or delayed adoption efforts. No bride dreams of marital problems and divorce. No one hopes to be on the verge of bankruptcy or unemployed. No one hopes to face addiction or alcoholism. No parents want their children to struggle with self-esteem or spiritual matters. No person wants to face deadly diseases.

We don’t dream about such things. We don’t hope to or want to, we just don’t and yet, we must face these things at times and more that I haven’t mentioned. I think that is the stress seed that gets planted in our hearts. Dreams that are dashed and disappointment of hopes gone awry.

Then comes the holidays and now, we must add on the expectations of others to the expectations of our own. Buy this gift whether you can afford it or not. Go to this gathering whether you have time or not. Smile at these people whether you feel like it or not. Say what is expected, do what is expected, go where you are expected or you’ll disappoint someone.

All the while the stress factor sits in the corner if our minds where we think it has been safely tucked away until it has grown to such a size that it can no longer be ignored.

Maybe, just maybe, you don’t have to have the perfectly decorated Christmas tree, a Hallmark Card table spread, presents beyond your budget and accept every invitation you receive. Maybe, just maybe, dream new dreams and hang on to hope after all. Maybe you go confront the stress factor in your life by looking it square in the eyes and see what the little monster needs to be quieted.

Perhaps a nap is the first step. Then, maybe a good cry for what you had hoped for but, what is not to be this year. Reduce your speed during this holiday zone and decrease your activities. How many Thanksgiving celebrations are you attending? Does your toddler need one single thing you’ll put under that tree? Will your teen finally be satisfied? Will you ever measure up to that store of dreams? Will your husband? Will your children?

It may well be time for a bit of dream decluttering. Could this be the year when you stop comparing what is to what you are sure it should be?

If you can be courageous enough to take a deep breath and embrace the beauty of the moment, you may realize that the stress factor has slipped away unnoticed to places where disappointment is rampant. Let’s toss out the should bes and would bes and could bes. Let’s make room for the present moment, the simple gift, the shared laughter, the taste of delight and what we have, who we have, when and while we have them to treasure.

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3 thoughts on “The Holiday Stress Factor”

  1. I loved this, and needed it today. With Thanksgiving looming in my mind it was a great reminder to me, that I’m not the only one. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one miserable/having a hard time at these events. Great post!

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