Going the distance

Surviving the holidays

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D. December 18, 2015

Need more help?

If the stress in your life is more than you can cope with, get help right away.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Go to the nearest hospital or emergency room
  • Call your physician, health provider or clergy
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
    1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

The holiday lunacy, in terms of crass commercialism, used to start a week or so after Thanksgiving. Now virtually every retail outlet has decked the halls, commissioned Santa and packed the aisles with holiday goods by Halloween. It's the season of myth and magic and music — and also stress and sometimes real misery.

The Norman Rockwell painting of the happy overfed children, couples sitting around the fire and adoring in-laws opening their gifts is clearly a myth. It's in the same bucket as the tooth fairy and the unicorn, but somehow we buy into it with great financial as well as emotional cost. So how do we deal with this annual drama that almost everyone dreads?

There is no proven formula, but here are some suggestions and observations gleaned from many holiday seasons:

  • The greatest gift that we can give ourselves is the gift of health. It means getting at least seven hours of restorative sleep despite the fact that your cube mate or neighbor tells you that he can get by on four hours a night. This simply is not true. It means following a plant-based diet and watching the fats and the sugar. And a minimum of 30 minutes a day of aerobic activity, such as walking, is absolutely crucial and is soul-saving.
  • We must be realistic. The all-American family portrayed in Lake Wobegone simply does not exist. The reality is quite different. Gathered around the Christmas tree are in-laws, outlaws, former partners, step-children and people who hardly know each other. It's not surprising that tensions can run high and that we feel exhausted from "faking it" as people gather once or twice a year.
  • Now let's talk budget. We could certainly buy socks and shoes and ties and sweaters for everyone, but that's hardly a way to engender holiday spirit. Let's focus on one or two selected family members, be attentive and mindful of their needs, and be reasonable and realistic about what we're willing and able to spend.
  • Focus on gifts that are meaningful. When it comes to children, the stakes are high and the emotions higher. Most kids don't need another truck, another app or another digital gimmick. What they really need is the gift of time and understanding. They need someone to listen and try to understand who they are and what keeps them up at night. What are their concerns? This is the gift of presence rather than presents.

I hope that these simple guidelines serve as a road map as you try to navigate one of the most challenging times of the year. Please weigh in with your tips and suggestions. Here's my wish for you: Be safe, be well and get a good night's sleep.


Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

Join the discussion at #Stress.

Dec. 18, 2015