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The Holidays Bring Joy As Well As Stress: 10 Ways to Make Them Happy and Avoid the Blues

The idea is to remain happy and healthy and securely connected, rather than let the stresses dampen your spirit or lead to self-sabotage.
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Young woman looking up at dining table
Young woman looking up at dining table

Excited about the holidays? Stressed out by them? Both?

Oh yes, the holidays excite the senses. They stimulate fond memories. They get you to take stock of your lives. That's what's wonderful about them, but that's also what's stressful about them. They make you more susceptible to joy as well as vulnerability.

A perfect word for the dual nature of holidays is eustress. Eustress is the flip side of distress - its etymology: eu = good and stress= stretching apart. Eustress is the heightened emotional arousal that comes from experiencing good, exciting things. It can propel you forward in positive ways, but it can also leave you feeling slightly on edge, expectant, overwhelmed, more emotional, extra vulnerable.

For many, holidays can arouse the human universal wound of abandonment, with its feelings of wistfulness, anxiety or loss. People who are in grief, estranged from someone they love, or are alone during holidays may feel these things more keenly than usual.

Because of these special considerations, it's important to do a little extra maintenance. Just as our homes, gardens, and hair need constant maintenance, so does our emotional health. Create a plan to stay on top of things.

One priority is to keep close wraps on your Outer Child. Outer Child is the part of the personality that acts out feelings like anger, heartache or neediness in inappropriate ways, i.e. lashing out, over-isolating, over-indulging. Outer is the wayward, self-sabotaging nemesis that we all have within us - the gremlin that rises up when we least expect it and causes us to behave in ways that sabotage our relationships or goals.

With the holiday season upon us, here are ten ways to deal with its sustained excitement and exhilaration without letting your ever-intrusive Outer Child mess things up. The idea is to remain happy and healthy and securely connected, rather than let the stresses dampen your spirit or lead to self-sabotage.

1. Acknowledge that the sights, smells and sounds of holidays may hearken back to earlier times. The special music, glowing lights, the scent of freshly cut pine, the tinkling of bells - all of these can tug at our heartstrings, can increase our sense of loss, loneliness, and nostalgia for what has passed.

2. Also recognize that the hubbub of holiday activity - the celebratory whirl of people around you - can a evoke subliminal fear of abandonment - a universal angst that trickles beneath the surface and that can bubble to the surface during this time of year. Validate and accommodate these feelings by being extra kind and loving toward yourself. Reach out to and reconnect with old friends.

3. Give yourself permission to feel all of your feelings with an eye for being especially self-accepting and self-nurturing. Writing your feelings into your journal is a powerful tool. You can also share them with colleagues, friends, and therapists.

4. Use the heightened excitement and vulnerability as an opportunity to enhance your relationship with yourself. Go through the holidays consciously, using your senses of sight, sound, smell, and touch to take in all that it has to offer. Be in the moment by tuning into the sensations and feelings evoked during this special season, sustaining awareness of yourself, your experiences, and your reactions.

5. Build in activities that celebrate not only your connectedness to others, but also your separateness - your capacity to stand on your own two feet. Celebrate the separateness we all share as human beings regardless of whether we're coupled, ensconced in a family, or completely alone. Plan and consciously enjoy at least one holiday activity that you can fully experience by yourself, such as making a solo visit to a museum or attending a concert on your own. Drink in the experience solely for your own sake.

6. Take your Outer Child Inventory. Outer's over-the-top behaviors can be easily triggered by holiday "eustress." Recognize that Outer is always looking for an excuse to sabotage your best laid plans by overeating, over-drinking, over-emoting, over-shopping, over-sleeping, or over-avoiding.

7. Plan. Build in holiday activities that bring you in contact with people you care about. Use times of togetherness to express your love and connection to others, rather than opportunities to indulge Outer Child's excesses.

8. Extend your special kindness and sensitivity to those you come in contact with, including strangers, based on your awareness that they may be more vulnerable than usual at this evocative time of year - in need of extra human connection even, whether they are conscious of it or not. Perform kind deeds toward them invisibly - that is, without seeking acknowledgement.

9. Make a resolution (apropos of New Years) to become fully engaged in a health-promoting regimen to enhance your awareness, social life, goal-achievement, sense of self, ot spiritual development. Participate in abandonment recovery t to incrementally improve your capacity for life and love.

10. Enjoy the holidays! May they be peaceful, happy and productive!