Scrooge probably had it right when he coined the phrase, “Bah! Humbug!”
Thanks to Madison Avenue, Hollywood, and our own fuzzy memories, we think that the weeks stretching from Thanksgiving to Christmas are the happiest time of year. Jingle bells, holiday parties, mistletoe, and smiles all around: That represents Christmas to many people. Everything’s all right with the world.
Psychologists will tell you — in fact, your own experiences will tell you — that the holidays are a tough time. There are legitimate reasons why:
Thanksgiving and Christmas occur just as daylight reaches its nadir. Scientific studies have shown a link between less daylight and more emotional problems. If you think it’s bad living with short days in Waldoboro or Van Buren, you should try Fairbanks or Spitsbergen;
At no other time during the year do reality and fantasy collide so hard and strew so much emotional wreckage along their respective tracks. Few people make such a fuss over Memorial Day, Labor Day, or Halloween: Those occasions just happen, and if things don’t go as planned, no one usually cares.
Let things not go right at Thanksgiving or Christmas, however, and psyches can shatter like a glass dropped on a stone patio;
Society would have us believe that the holidays lead to great joy among people and peace on Earth. Family members who can’t stand each other’s facial features must be lovey-dovey, and warfare must stop in Yugosplitsia, Somalia, or wherever.
People establish their own expectations that, when unfulfilled, lead to frustration, anger, and similar emotions that Americans often deny that they are feeling. And then there’s depression, a medical condition that, under the guise of the “holiday blues,” appears so often during the Christmas season.
Fortunately, people can do something to ease the normal stress and tension that occurs in November and December. Changing your attitude and behavior can make the holiday season more joyful:
First, lower your expectations.
You needn’t be on your best behavior all the time, no matter if Santa’s coming to town or not. If you get tired, that’s ok. Take a nap or hit the sack early. If you stay rested, everything looks better. When you tire out, even a little problem takes on greater dimensions.
Write down a list of what you want to accomplish, of what you must do this holiday season. Get it all down on paper.
Looks good, doesn’t it? You’ve got everything written in one place so you can organize your days to achieve all these magnificent goals.
Wrong. Heed the good advice extended to novice air travelers: Once you’ve finished packing — or in this case, recording your holiday goals — throw out half of what you’ve packed — or scratch out half your desired goals.
Toss out everything that you really don’t have to do this holiday season. It’s not all high-priority. Life will continue if you don’t visit all the relatives, make the perfect Thanksgiving dinner, or find the perfect present for everyone on your shopping list.
Why would you eliminate unnecessary goals? That’s easy: You’ll travel much easier with less physical or emotional baggage to carry and fewer destinations to reach. The less you must accomplish, the more time you will enjoy to do so;
Second, realize that neither the holidays nor the people around you will be perfect. Things will go wrong, and people will goof up, but that’s no cause to fly off the deep end or plunge into depression.
Last December, a syndicated advice columnist published a nasty letter from a writer who bitterly criticized his relatives and in-laws and their behavior. The man reduced aunts, uncles, and siblings to two-dimensional characters in a treatise that revealed his outright hostility.
If they dared, many people would express similar feelings about attending family gatherings. A mother detests a daughter-in-law, someone’s kids are mean little brats, or an uncle always gets drunk and spoils the festivities.
If certain relatives turn your stomach, you’ve got a few choices to make. You can avoid such people altogether — or swallow your pride and endure a few hours in their company.
If you’re really gutsy, you can confront your obnoxious relatives and tell them what you think about their behavior. Remember, however, that your relatives might feel the same way about you. The axiom is, a swinging door opens both ways;
Third, budget your time. You can’t possibly make every party, shop every day, or accomplish every goal you set.
Stop rushing through your day and take an hour or so for yourself. While baking a favorite dish for someone else, cook something that you like. If you buy a video as a gift for someone, rent a movie that you want to see — and sit down and watch it.
To coin a timeworn phrase, slow down and enjoy the Christmas lights;
Fourth, budget your budget. Determine how much money you want to spend and stick to that figure. Overspending causes many problems, not all of them emotional in nature;
Fifth, don’t overindulge. If you don’t overeat, you shouldn’t gain much weight, and you won’t feel guilty about doing so. You won’t have to exercise so hard to remove the excess weight, either.
Don’t drink too much. This way, you don’t throw up on the hostess, wrap your car like a ribbon around a utility pole, or wind up in the obituaries.