Going the distance

Reality vs. myth in fighting holiday stress

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D. December 4, 2009

"Give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other." This is known as the serenity prayer and has been used by Alcoholics Anonymous, among others. I believe this advice is especially crucial when you confront holiday stress.

The media offers pictures of the multigenerational, well-fed, well-dressed family sitting around a table bursting with holiday offerings. Under the tree are piles of beautifully wrapped gifts. The reality for most individuals is somewhat different.

Most families have challenges, and many families struggle this time of the year trying to live up to an idealized version of the holidays. Here are some suggestions that I have heard from patients and families trying to deal with holiday stress.

  • Be realistic. If individuals have locked horns for most of the year, it is not reasonable to think that on one day all will be forgiven. We need to be gentle with ourselves. We need to forgive ourselves.
  • Give of yourself. The best gift is not a toy, a trinket or a thing. It is the gift of our presence. It is the gift of our listening. It is the gift of our "being there."
  • Take care of yourself. We do need to take care of our bodies by getting enough exercise and sleep and by eating a healthy diet. We also need to protect our spirit, knowing when to draw a line in the sand and say, "no, thank you for the opportunity but I will not be able to participate." If we give and give, there is nothing left to give.

How do you cope with holiday stress? What survival tactics have I left out? Please let me hear from you so we can all profit from our collective experiences. Yes, we are survivors and we are resilient and we will do just fine.


Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

Join the discussion at #Stress.

Dec. 04, 2009