December Holidays, Nostalgia, and the Lurking Stress Demon

The Stress DemonDecember is devoted to the Stress Demon. The holiday season puts even more scheduling, balancing, and financial strain on our already stressed-out lives.  Time-consuming, extra tasks may involve shopping, decorating, meal preparation, year-end business chores, and travel.

In addition, there are the emotional tugs and ties that trigger stress, and sometimes, emotional upheavals. We can’t remove the emotions, but we can accept, manage, and keep moving so the season is joyful. The keys are to identify triggers and minimize their effects.

Holiday music is the culprit for me, and unfailingly, it triggers short emotional meltdowns. These days, Halloween is winding down as I walk into a store and hear the musical tones of “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” The tears roll down my cheeks with the first notes of Karen Carpenter’s voice.

At some points in my life, the tears were a sign of nostalgia for happy times in my youth with family and friends. There were meals in fancy restaurants, holiday parties in Forest Hills and Newark, skating in Rockefeller Center,  hours spent shopping, walking, and laughing in Greenwich Village, and listening to jazz musicians clown around in the Ponte Music Store. Those wonderful times continued as I brought my children into New York during the holiday season.

As time passed, and one by one family members no longer graced the tables (or engaged in silly bickering), the emotions included the sadness of loss.

For me and countless others, the holidays are a mixed bag.  We need strategies to keep the emotions balanced so that we enjoy the present and bring joy to the cherished ones who remain.

Here are 10 tips on how to prepare and take action for those moments when nostalgia and the holidays trigger the Stress Demon:

  1. When you schedule your shopping, plan for shorter rather than longer periods, and go when you are most alert and have substantial emotional energy.
  2. Understand that you’ll manage stress best when you engage in healthy exercise and sleep routines.
  3. Avoid stores that play holiday music (Yeah, good luck with that!).
  4. Shop at local or small stores and chat with the owners or sales persons.
  5. Use earplugs or an iPod if you are alone. Play music that is relaxing or invigorating.
  6. Go with others who are empathetic, but who love to laugh.
  7. Accept that emotions will overflow periodically. Say, “It’s normal to react this way. I’m grateful for and remember the gift of another’s life.”
  8. Consider a session or two with a mental health professional to help keep things in balance.
  9. Say “no” nicely to excessive demands to party, take on extra responsibilities, or spend unwisely.
  10. Every day, identify at least one or two things for which you are grateful.

About Geraldine Markel, Ph.D.

Geraldine Markel, Ph.D. is principal of Managing Your Mind Coaching and Seminars and is author of Defeating the 8 Demons of Distraction: Increasing Productivity and Decreasing Stress. She is co author of Finding Your Focus: Practical Strategies for the Everyday Challenges Facing Adults with ADD and Helping Adolescents with ADD and/or Learning Disabilities. At the University of Michigan, Dr. Markel served as faculty in the School of Education. She coaches adults and adolescents with ADD and/or learning disabilities and specializes in working with independent professionals, writers, and graduate students.
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