Welcome back to the Journey Podcast! In this episode, Jeff and Terry offer solutions to help you thrive during this holiday season.
Transcription of Podcast
I’m trying to figure out why am I getting stressed out? Well, maybe it’s because I’m expecting too much of what I’m doing or too much of what other people are doing. You’re hosting a dinner party. Does everything have to be perfect?
Jeff: Welcome to the Journey podcast. This is Jeff. And today we’re going to ask the question, how can we survive holiday stress? In the studio with me this time is Terry. Hi, Terry.
Jeff: She is a mental health counselor and I’m really glad that you’re here because holidays can be stressing. They can be fun, but they can also have a lot going on and really stress us out, so we could use a few good ideas on this topic.
Terry: Sure. Thank you. I’m excited to be able to be here today.
Jeff: So tell me about this a little bit. I mean, the holidays, when we think of holidays a lot of times they’re filled with happiness, good tidings, and joy, right?
Terry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: So families are getting together. Lots of good food and decorations. What’s this thing about stress and all that?
Terry: Well, you’d think it’d be all fun and joy. I mean, at least that’s what Norman Rockwell and Hallmark Channel want to make you think, is that everything’s all wrapped up neatly and tightly into a small little package.
Jeff: Well, and you talk about the Hallmark Channel and stuff. My background is in advertising and let’s face it, there’s a ton of time, money, and energy put out there, whether it’s the Hallmark Channel or whatever it might be. I mean, there’s a lot of time, money, and energy put out there to produce stuff, to sell stuff, and it’s just kind of overwhelming at times.
Terry: Right. Well, that’s one of the stresses and I think we’ll kind of talk about that today. There are other other issues, and we’ll have a couple of other podcasts coming up that talk about some of the family relationships. Family dynamics, loneliness and things like that. Definitely. I mean, the reality is that some of the people listening today may have no family at the holidays, or they’re part of a family that doesn’t get along very well. Even some toxic relationships.
Jeff: Yeah, that’s really rough, right? I mean-
Terry: Right. And so we’ll talk about those at some point too, because I think this is a bigger issue than just one podcast. But today what I’d like to talk about is, really the dealing with stress, the personal stress that goes along with the holidays. I think there’s a level where we kind of get into almost a chronic level of stress, starting about before Thanksgiving and then through the 1st of January and stuff. And I think that doesn’t necessarily have to be there.
Jeff: Right, right. Well, and I think even change of seasons to kind of combine this. I mean, we have less daylight. I mean, there’s just lots of … it gets colder in a lot of parts of the country. I mean, there’s just a lot of changes going on this time of the year. A lot of things going on.
Terry: And for those people who’ve lost somebody or they’re separated from someone that they love, holidays can be especially brutal. But apart from that, we also notice there’s a lot more personal stress. Fatigue, sadness, irritability, all increase over the winter months. Like you said, the winter season itself can be kind of stressful. You’ve got the extra cold and other things, especially you live in our part of the world.
Jeff: Right, right. Yeah, I think it was five degrees today. [crosstalk 00:03:33] drive it in so …
Terry: Yeah, exactly. And a lot of extra stress comes from the financial strain. Holidays are not cheap.
Jeff: So what can we do about it? What are some of the things that we can do to address this and to address it head on?
Terry: Well, I think one of the things to look at is kind of more from a general vantage point. We could look at each one of those different issues and really focus on any one of those and do them well. But I think for the purpose of today, let’s look at it from more of a general vantage point. If someone is having a particularly tough time with any of the issues discussed or if the sadness that they’re feeling, and this is the point I really want to point out, if the sadness you’re feeling interferes with your normal routine, has lasted more than a few days, I really encourage you to find some kind of professional help. Get a hold of a counselor or a therapist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, somebody in your area, and let them know that you’re really struggling. Because that’s more than the usual stress for the holidays.
Jeff: Right, right. And you probably see, in your practice this time of the year, more people that are coming in with these kinds of concerns or just these kinds of things that are bothering them.
Terry: Yeah. Before the holidays we see people coming in saying, “I don’t know how I’m going to survive the holidays.” Afterwards we get people who have been stressed out so much that we’re dealing with some of the post stress.
Jeff: Right, right. Well, I think about, as we’re talking here on a little bit of a lighter note, the movie Vacation, the Chevy Chase Vacation movie.
Terry: Christmas Vacation.
Jeff: Christmas Vacation, yeah. And you’ve got all this stuff going on, and in a lighthearted way, I mean, it really does show all the mess that can can happen at the holiday. Again, what are some of those things, sort of those warning signs or those, even yellow light kinds of things flashing that say, “Hey, I might be stressing out over this stuff.”
Terry: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question. I think the first thing is just to really … I encourage people to really listen to what their body is telling them. That sounds kind of strange to somebody who’s not used to doing that. But knots in your stomach, chest, tension in your neck and shoulders. Those are all ways that our body is trying to get our attention. Some people, they get so many knots in their stomach they can’t eat, or they feel like they’re going to throw up. And those are all signs of tension. And there’s a lot of other things, headaches, just other kind of fatigue, irritability. Pay attention to those things. Our body’s trying to get our attention and saying, “Hey, wait a minute. This isn’t healthy.”
Terry: I think, also, be aware of your own self-talk. Be aware of what’s going on. We all talk to ourselves on a regular basis. Our thoughts are going round and round about different things. Be aware of your own self-talk. First of all, examine your expectations. What am I expecting? Okay, I know I’m getting stressed out. I’m trying to figure out why am I getting stressed out? Well, maybe it’s because I’m expecting too much of what I’m doing or too much of what other people are doing. You’re hosting a dinner party. Does everything have to be perfect? What happens if somebody doesn’t have … you don’t have an equal number of pumpkin pie slices or something like that?
Jeff: Oh dear, not that.
Terry: Is that going to ruin the whole party? Just be realistic with your expectations. I think another thing to look at too is why am I doing what I’m doing? Am I trying to keep up with others? Do I have to have my house have at least two more strands of lights than the neighbor’s lights?
Jeff: Right. Right, exactly.
Terry: Just realizing, “I don’t have to keep up with others.” I think it helps to anticipate some of the other stressors that you might have coming up. What might some of the stressors be? If I’m having a family dinner and I know uncle Jeff is going to be there …
Jeff: Not uncle Jeff. No, no.
Terry: … and he sometimes causes a great deal of stress, anticipate that-
Jeff: Oh, no. That would never happen. Not anybody named Jeff, right?Never would happen.
Terry: … and then develop a plan. How am I going to deal with a stress? I know stress is inevitable. There are times when we have to have some … stress will happen. So what do you do with that? Come up with a plan on how I’m going to either distress or minimize the stress.
Jeff: Which would be how? I mean, what are a couple of examples?
Terry: Well, I think one of the ways to minimize the stress would be to stick to a budget, for instance. Financial stress can be really, really overwhelming at Christmas time. If you decide, I don’t want to spend more than X number of dollars on Christmas this year, and then divide out by how many people you have to buy for. And say, “You know what? Guess what? This is what we’re spending.” It kind of goes along with keeping up with others. Can you live with the fact that you only buy a $25 present and somebody gives you a $50 present? Does that cause stress?
Jeff: Well, the whole concept, January does come after December and credit card bills do come in January. So that will happen.
Terry: Well, and I think, like I said before, de-stressing is really, really important. What that means is after you’ve had a stressful event or you’ve had a stressful day or week, do something to distress. Usually that’s through some kind of relaxation, deep breathing exercises, meditation. It can also be through, go take a warm bubble bath if you’re that type of person. Or exercise. Burning off the stress can help a lot.
Jeff: Right. Right. Yeah. Just going a little deeper there. I mean, stress really is a thing, right? I mean, there’s some sort of science. I should mention, Terry’s background, besides being a counselor, is a RN, a registered nurse, so she’s got a little bit of sort of that medical background to some of this stuff too.
Terry: Well, yeah. I remember when I worked in the hospital that it seemed to me that a lot of people were there for preventable causes, and a lot of the prevention is dealing with stress. Stress causes us to wear out body parts. I think in some ways … I mean, I know there’s a genetic pattern to things like heart disease and stuff, but constant chronic stress can bring something like that on a lot faster.
Jeff: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Terry: Think of your body as a stress bank, I guess is a good way to look at it. When we’re under stress, our body secretes hormones as a way of helping us cope. But if we don’t give ourselves time to distress or empty the stress bank, it will continue to fill, fill, fill, fill, and eventually the results of chronic overstress will become evident.
Jeff: Yeah. Huh. Interesting. What are some of the ways that stress kind of shows up? I mean, what …
Terry: Stress can actually feel good at first. We feel competent. We feel valued. We feel like we’re really accomplishing a lot of stuff, and in some ways we feel like we’re more important in some ways because we have a lot to do. But pretty soon we can start to feel some resentment towards people around us, especially if they’re a lot more relaxed than we are at the holidays. We may start to feel like, “If you’d just start picking up some of the slack I wouldn’t be so stressed and then I could be relaxed with you.” We start to blame them for some of our stress.
Jeff: Terry, what’s something then that we can do about this then?
Terry: Well, I think one of the first things you might want to do is find a friend. Get ahold of somebody. Find a coach, talk to a counselor, a therapist. It might be a good idea to just even kind of look into sharing some of these things that are stressing you out with someone else and get their perspective. Maybe they could give you some coach tips of, “Here’s some things I did over the holidays to make myself less stressed.”
Jeff: Right. Well, and we’ve said this before, and I say it tongue in cheek, that at Journey we’d love to put counselors out of business. And what that means is, not that counselors would ever go out of business, because there are times, like you said, when counseling is really, really good. But how many people could stay out of that counselor’s office if they had those intentional relationships. If they had those friends and just cultivated those friendships. I mean, how important is it that?
Terry: Right. Well, I wish I could give you an answer for that, I really don’t. I know that there are oftentimes situations that somebody will come in and they’ll say, “Well, I was really stressed out over such and such a time, but I handled it well. I talked to one of my friends.” Did they need to come into a counselor’s office over that? Probably not.
Jeff: Right, right. And so, friends matter. Another thing that we can do is to look at simplifying. So for instance, Thanksgiving. We talk about Thanksgiving, and the word that is front and center there is thanks. So what can help sometimes, and really at core of what Thanksgiving is about, is to give-
Jeff: Yeah, that’s right. Same with Christmas. I mean, we hear about Christmas and think, “Oh my gosh, Christmas is coming up.” We have these ideas like we had talked about. All these parties and all this, giving gifts and all these things happening. But if you look at the word Christmas. Christ, the birth of Christ. It’s easy to overlook that sometimes.
Jeff: And sometimes people think, “Well, yeah, but I don’t even really know if I believe this stuff about a little baby being born and Jesus and all this stuff.” But we kind of need to think, “Well, if there’s this holiday that is pegged into our calendar that’s about this event, that is Christ mass, aught we maybe spend some time around Christmas looking at that core event and saying, ‘Hey. How might this actually have happened and how can it be just a meaningful thing in my life?'”
Terry: Well, I’d like to go back to what you just said because I think what’s really important is, if you stop and look at what the real reason is, it can … Because the way you said it, it sounds a little bit like you’re adding stress to what people are doing. And I think what your real intention was, is to help them to de-stress by looking at the actual reason for what they’re getting … the purpose of the holiday and try to focus on that. And if you do that then you might not get as involved in as many of the decorations or lights or … your focus is going to be different and hopefully less stressful.
Jeff: Yeah. Right. Focus on the meaning behind Thanksgiving and behind Christmas.
Terry: Right. And the reason you’re there as opposed to …
Jeff: That sounds good. Cool. Well-
Terry: Actually, we’ve got another podcast kind of coming down the road here and we’re going to talk more about the specifics of dealing with either loneliness at the holidays or dealing with relationships that are actually adding more stress. And so, let’s kind of wrap this up today and then we will deal with those at another time.
Jeff: Right. And just say Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas to everyone. Right? Alrighty. Thanks for listening. Tune in next time.
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