6 Reasons the Holidays Stress Us Out (and the Antidote to All of Them)
Do you feel rested and relaxed once January 2 rolls around each year? Or, do you breathe a sigh of relief, grateful to have survived one more holiday season?
If you fall into the second category, you already know that you’re not alone. The negative feelings that we encounter during the holidays run the gamut from mild stress to anxiety to profound depression. If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I am always looking for the reasons within us that allow any situation to trigger such negativity.
In this article, I’ll describe a few of the biggest core issues that can make the holidays feel less than wonderful. All of these issues fall within a larger body of negative feeling called Learned Distress®.
Early in life, we all absorb this feeling that there is something wrong with us being just the way that we are. This Learned Distress becomes the automatic, generating force behind our negative moments and situations. As we absorb this negative feeling, our brains also develop survival mechanisms to help us cope with or control the feeling that there’s something wrong with us. Unfortunately, even our survival mechanisms can offer big stumbling blocks to happiness and success.
The holidays have the capacity, like any major life stressor, to trigger the most intense of our Learned Distress and survival mechanisms. So, let’s look at some of the most common. You may find that one or more resonate for you.
1. I Don’t Have Enough Money
The feeling that “there isn’t enough for me” pops up in lots of ways for people, but money is perhaps the most common way that we experience it. There are many expectations that we often have about the holidays that require money. Gift giving. Parties. Charitable giving. Decorating. Special holiday meals. Concerts or shows. Dressy clothes to wear to all these events.
Whether or not your finances are tight, the extra expenditures that you may feel are necessary at this time of year can really trigger the Learned Distress that “there’s never enough for me.” Believe it or not, even people who actually do have the funds to afford all of these things often say things to me like, “All I worry about is where my next meal is coming from.” This is because this feeling of not having enough is stored deep within us from early in our lives, just waiting to be triggered by something like the holidays.
2. I Don’t Have Enough Time
Many of the same holiday expectations above trigger fear about not having the time or energy to fulfill them. Can I get all my cards done on time? Can I get presents purchased, wrapped, and shipped? While going to parties every weekend? And concerts or the ballet? Again, whether or not you do actually have the time and energy to do these things, your fear that you don’t can still be triggered in a big way during this season.
3. I Don’t Matter
Feeling that we matter is at the core of being human, so having this triggered is one of the worst things we can experience in life. The feeling that we don’t matter is stored within us from early in life and is really just triggered by circumstances, kind of like tripping an alarm. But, we gauge the feeling that we don’t matter almost entirely by how other people respond to us and treat us.
So, one of the big triggers for this awful feeling is loved ones being absent, either because they’ve passed away or because we’re separated from them temporarily or permanently. Another big trigger for feeling like we don’t matter is not having a significant other or close friends to spend time with at the holidays. Even if you’re usually content to be alone, the holidays can feel like a time when you should have people around, so the feeling that you don’t matter gets triggered.
This feeling often also makes us feel invisible, even in the presence of people who are close to us. Maybe you do your best to tell your loved ones how you would like to celebrate the holidays, but they don’t seem to hear you, and plans are made that don’t fit with what you really want, at all. This is the feeling that you don’t matter at work, generating situations over and over again where you get to feel that same way.
4. Everything Has to Be Perfect
Do you feel this pressure at the holidays? Maybe you have to send everyone cards. Or, decorate just the right way. Bake cookies for everyone. Throw the perfect holiday party. Look perfect at holiday gatherings. Cook the best holiday meal ever. Find just the right present for everyone. Or, maybe it’s all of the above with a few more things thrown in!
If this rings a bell, your brain decided early in life that the way you could survive, despite feeling that there is something wrong with you, was to always do things in the perfect or ideal way. Do you ever feel panicky at the thought that you might not actually achieve all of the above? Do you even know if doing these things makes you happy? Our survival mechanisms can be so strong that they don’t even really allow us to know if we’re doing something based on what is really good for us, or not.
5. I Have to Make Everyone Else Happy
This is similar to number 4, in that you may not even be aware of what would make you happy, because your survival mechanism has you so busy making sure that you give everyone what they want from you (or what you think they want from you!). Survival for you depends on getting everyone else’s approval or validation, so you expend lots of energy doing whatever may help you achieve that.
Very often, this pattern has a healthy dose of number 3—”I don’t matter”—built into it, so you may wake up on January 2 and think, “Well, I made the holidays great for everyone else, but what about me?!”
6. I Have to Win
Better. Bigger. Brighter. Than everyone else’s. Is this the pressure you feel around the holidays? That unless you are the winner of this year’s holiday in some way—decorations, presents, parties—that you will have failed in some way? This is a demanding piece of Learned Distress, and like numbers 4 and 5, it may not even allow you to consider what would really make you happy.
The Antidote to Learned Distress
Did you recognize some of your own Learned Distress above? The most important thing I want you to know is that these negative feelings and survival mechanisms are not who you are. Before you ever started to absorb Learned Distress, you were pure well-being, a pure bundle of feeling good being just the way you are. You still have this well-being at your core, and it is your true nature.
You have within you what you need to achieve what matters to you, including having enough money and time. You are already good enough, just as you are. You do matter, exactly as you are.
Unfortunately, I know that reading these things probably doesn’t help you feel much better about your situation right now. If I could snap my fingers and dissolve all of your Learned Distress today, I would. But, Quanta Change doesn’t offer any such quick fixes. If we started working together today, we could probably erase some of your significant Learned Distress in the next few weeks. And then, we would be peeling away layers and allowing your well-being to emerge for some time to come. The reality is that Learned Distress that has been building for decades doesn’t disappear by following some simple advice that can be contained in a blog post.
And yet, my holiday wish for you is that by knowing that there is this deep well-being within you, that you can walk through this holiday season with just a little more ease and joy. Think of your well-being as a present just waiting to be unwrapped. What if you let yourself peel just a little wrapping paper away to catch a glimpse of it this holiday season?
Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.