Holiday Headache

Thanksgiving is over, and Christmas is here. Sure, Christmas is only one day, but the days leading up to it prove to be the most difficult. For many, like myself, we try to take things in stride; one day at a time. Yet, when I wake up, nothing has passed but time. I’m still stressed out, and the pressure is mounting, I just want Christmas to be over and for the New Year to come. But part of me knows the joy, faith, and hope Christmas brings and I want to be a part of it.

Sometimes you just need to step back, do something worthwhile, and focus on yourself. Ask yourself, what’s the issue? Is it loneliness, having to deal with family visiting, maybe its financial stress of not being able to provide an adequate gift? Maybe you’re a recovering alcoholic – and Christmas parties are rough. Maybe it’s anger, anxiety, resentment, or depression. Maybe you lost a brother or sister in arms or another loved one. I know I am dealing with many of these issues, and have been actively seeking ways to cope. Through this I have recognized that what the media portrays is a fairytale, a fantasy, unrealistic standards.

What is/should Christmas be about? Christ, but we probably have some different ideas so I asked my friend Johnny Rambo, and here are some common themes: Christmas should be about faith, love, inspiration, hope, family, and friends. These feelings and values are easier said than done; as many issues arise that get in the way of trying to enjoy Christmas.

Financial Stress is an issue for many, because too often we compare ourselves to what others are doing. There’s the idea that you must give a gift of equal or greater value than that of the gift you’ll receive, which will only stress you out more in an attempt to find the “perfect” gift. You don’t need to take on debt to give something meaningful. If it comes down to your finances, show your gratitude by gifting something handmade/personal; something that comes from the heart rather than from the wallet. This is exactly what the poor little drummer boy did; he couldn’t afford a gift so instead he played a song. You don’t need to overextend yourself this season, it’s also okay to let your loved ones know how much you care, and wished you could give more, but simply can’t afford it right now. If you want to give back to your community; but no money to give, you can rake the leaves or snow shovel for the disabled or elderly neighbor. Try to sign up to help load cars with Toys for Tots. You can even volunteer at a church or shelter to help with a soup kitchen. Maybe check with the Salvation Army to ring a bell for donations. There are plenty of opportunities to serve that don’t cost a dime.

Another stressful situation is having to be around family or in-laws you don’t like. But don’t let your disagreements keep you home, you deserve to have fun, too. Here are a few things to do to have fun regardless the situation; don’t be scared or timid, don’t hide yourself, just enjoy what’s good. If you find yourself getting frustrated, be the bigger person and don’t let it get to you. If you have children – do it for the kids, they won’t be little forever, and soon enough the party will be over.

Sometimes the hardest part of Christmas parties is drinking too much alcohol, or someone else who drinks too much. Plan ahead, let a few people know not to offer/encourage you to keep drinking. Find a favorite non-alcoholic drink, maybe a coke or some juice that you or the relative likes, and bring it with. Maybe you’re a recovering alcoholic; in which case, bring a friend or battle buddy for accountability. If you are traveling, and/or can’t bring a friend, talk to your mentor or AA leader before the trip. Make sure to have your battle buddy or sobriety partner’s number on hand, and let them know you may need to call on them while you’re visiting friends or family. With a little planning, you too can enjoy your holiday without alcohol taking front stage.

The aforementioned holiday stressors can cause depression all on their own, but that depression can be compounded by the loss of a brother or sister in arms or the loss of a family member; followed be feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and anger to name a few. If you know someone hurting from loss, the greatest gift you can give is to be there for them or to give them a call. When we are lonely, we don’t feel like doing anything, but make a plan and you might enjoy it. Try going to a church street ministry to give the homeless clothing and hygiene items, and offer a prayer. Or go to a nursing home, load vehicles with gifts from the Salvation Army, or visit/read to children stuck in the hospital. You could also organize a potluck and invite seniors, as they have lived through more thus have more to grieve about.

I hope you found some coping strategies to help you through Christmas, and maybe even changed your perspective. Remember, society puts high expectations of generosity and the idea of being overly joyful with the promise of happiness, but this usually leads to depression and more stress. Society also causes us to compare our feelings to how others feel or how we think they perceive us – this in turn causes us to put judgement on yourself. Try to just be grateful for what you have; health, home, and food. Be grateful now – in the moment – not worrying what you have or will not have in the future. If you need rest – rest. Need to grieve? Grieve. If you’re still struggling, take group therapy, call a helpline, call family or a battle buddy, or call the crisis-line. Try to enjoy the holidays, remember why we celebrate, and give a gift for which you cannot be paid back – volunteer.

“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more” – Jackson Brown JR

Author – Shaun Kuhaneck, US Coast Guard Veteran. 100% Disability from active duty service.