The Spirit of the Season

The Spirit of the Season

by Alisa Johnson, LPC



When you think about December, what comes to mind?

Is it the Christmas tree, beautifully adorned in bright colors and sparkling lights? Or the Christmas carols that fill the airwaves with light-hearted joy and delight? Maybe it’s the excitement over your family’s tradition of gift-giving and/or opening Christmas gifts? Could it be, for those of Christian faith, the very foundation of their lives? For some, it may be lighting of the candles on the menorah, during the eight days of Hanukkah. And for others, it’s the release of the latest Star Wars movie. There are others who take this time of year to begin contemplating their goals for the new year.




Whatever it is for you, hopefully, there’s a certain joyful expectancy or positive anticipation that fills your heart.


Festive Stress

Unfortunately, this is also a time of added stress to already over-packed schedules and stressful lives. And some people get too caught up in the consumerism that plagues our society today. According to one study about “festive stress,” the most stressful parts of the holidays are gift shopping (56 percent), crowds and lines (54 percent), cleaning (45 percent), knowing what to get people (38 percent) and cooking (36 percent). The pressure to have a “perfect Christmas” also takes its toll on 41 percent of Americans, who confess to working “too hard” to achieve it. The percentage jumps to almost half (49 percent) for moms, who put even more pressure on themselves.


25 most stressful things about the holidays for Americans:

  • Gift shopping

  • Crowds and lines

  • Cleaning

  • Knowing what to get people

  • Cooking

  • Shopping for food

  • How much to spend on other people

  • Decorating

  • Whether the kids will be happy with presents

  • Wrapping presents

  • Hosting

  • Family politics of making sure everyone is treated fairly

  • Working out how to visit everyone I need to

  • What food to prepare

  • Where to spend Christmas Day

  • Hearing constant Christmas music

  • Old arguments being brought up

  • Someone drinking too much

  • Home repairs/upgrades

  • Whether to put Christmas spending on the credit card

  • Me or my partner having to work too much over the holiday

  • My partner not helping out enough when we have to host people

  • Other people being too jolly

  • A new recipe turning out badly

  • Whether to go out for Christmas dinner or stay at home


Because of all of the stressors we experience during this time of year, we may become distracted from the spirit of Christmas, which is love and generosity and goodness. And instead, we may find ourselves thinking more in line with the quote by Jerry Seinfeld below. When this happens, not only does everyone around us tend to suffer, but we suffer too!


“That’s the true spirit of Christmas; people being helped by people other than me.”

-Jerry Seinfeld



DON’T be a “Jerry!”


Tips to prevent holiday stress and depression, from the Mayo Clinic:


When stress is at its peak, it’s hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
  2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  3. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to,and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
  4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  5. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.

Try these alternatives:

    • Donate to a charity in someone’s name.
    • Give homemade gifts.
    • Start a family gift exchange.
  1. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
  2. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
  3. Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.

Try these suggestions:

    • Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.
  1. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

Some options may include:

    • Taking a walk at night and stargazing.
    • Listening to soothing music.
    • Getting a massage.
    • Reading a book.
  1. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Take control of the holidays

Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.



Alisa Johnson, LPC



“The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness. It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.”

-Thomas S. Monson




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