Is it really the most wonderful time of the year?

It’s the holiday season. Before we are even able to put the Fall decorations away, the Christmas trees already have their lights on. Jingle Bells accompany us wherever we go to endorse our festive mood. Yet, the moods my clients bring to the office these days are often far from being festive. For many, the holiday season is the most challenging time of the year.

What are the main stressors, that go hand in hand with the holidays?

Time with family

The picture-perfect family from the Christmas postcards, while such a popular image is not always the whole truth. Even though we love our family members, they are the ones who know our triggers and are best to push our buttons. Expectations, unmet hopes, and ambitions are often the unspoken source of pressure around the holiday dinner table. When will you get married? Can’t you find a better job? I sacrificed so much to
raise you. Explicitly said or implicitly felt, these are just a few examples of why it is difficult to get together.

Out of routine

Even though there are more days off work during the holidays, the lack of structure can be stressful. Spending the day on the couch watching Netflix can leave many people with a sense of guilt and loss of purpose. Late dinners are often followed by late breakfasts, which are followed by skipping the gym, which is followed by another lazy evening. Stepping out of our hamster wheel is sometimes a way to realize how much tiredness we have accumulated.

Financial pressure

Buying gifts for all guests or even for only the kids in the family can require a serious budget. The travel cost and the decreased amount of paid hours do not make things easier. An extra monthly salary or two can easily be spent to meet holiday expectations.

Physical health

We already mentioned the dinner table and the skipped visits to the gym. The holiday menus often do not restrict sugar, fat, cholesterol, processed foods, and alcohol. Poor nutrition combined with stress, lack of physical activity, and cold weather, can challenge our immune systems, and exacerbate some underlying physical problems.

Kids acting out

Even though they can finally spend time with their loving grandma, can play with their cousins, and are showered with gifts, kids are the first to react to the disruption of routine. The lack of predictability, the noise, and the crowd can lead to numerous unexpected and difficult-to-manage meltdowns.

Travel

Visiting family members or just changing the environment, we often use the days off to hit the road. However, travel comes with its own challenges. Heavy traffic, jet lag, post-pandemic fears of viruses, tons of preparation, and a lot of rushing around are just a few of the things that can take a toll.

End-of-the-year achievements summary

New Year resolutions inevitably make us reassess how many of our last year’s expectations were achieved. Given that we tend to set unrealistic goals and easily forget to track our progress, we may find ourselves at the same place where we started last January. To avoid feelings of guilt and disappointment we may become even more ambitious in our next year’s list of tasks and set ourselves for more remorse the following December.

Society puts so much pressure on the positive side of holidays. However, the picture-perfect families from the Christmas cards and Instagram posts are not always the whole truth. The realization that another year has passed without achieving satisfying relationships, desired careers, health, or financial stability can be painful. I encourage my clients to be honest and explore their feelings as they come. These feelings are the first sign of what needs to be different. We use feelings to identify not only what my clients want to achieve but also to identify how they sometimes get in their own way. And from there, the journey to change
begins.

Even though it is often painful to see my clients struggling during the holidays, I am also filled with hope and excitement. What I have seen happening thousands of times is that what looks like slowing down or taking a step back turns out to be a way to regroup, strengthen, and eventually speed up toward achieving goals previously thought unimaginable. I am grateful to my clients for sharing their holiday challenges with me, for allowing me to support them, and for eventually giving me the chance to witness their growth. I wish for everyone to have the strength and bravery of my clients to face their real feelings and use them as a trampoline to more peaceful and satisfying holidays.

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Meet Sibila Jahangiri:

Sibila Jahangiri is a Resident in Counseling at Healthy Minds Therapy, PLLC. She has a B.A. degree in Clinical Psychology from The New Bulgarian University and a M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Sibila is passionate about applying science, spontaneity, and art techniques in her work with individuals and groups. Some of her focus areas include anxiety, depression, adjustment disorders, grief, and trauma. She has a special interest in supporting individuals and families going through infertility, pregnancy, and infant loss. Additionally, Sibila welcomes people who do not have mental illness but are facing some of the expected or unexpected life challenges. To learn more about Sibila, click HERE

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