Stress is often caused when we're disappointed because reality doesn't live up to expectations. Here's some advice to bring the two into alignment.
'Tis the season to be jolly, but for many of us the holidays are hell.
Two things are the biggest triggers of holiday blues: expectation and lack of action.
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We expect a great deal from the holidays. We hope that they will make up for a year gone wrong. We expect family members to be friendly, season's greetings to be sent, gifts to be given and happiness to reign. But the reality often falls short and we end up bitterly disappointed.
Our expectation also gets us into trouble when we compare today to what used to be. A childhood memory of a special day is hard to recapture. When we compare, we risk living in the past and losing the joy of the present.
Lack of action is another way to tempt the blues. If you are in new circumstances and know that the holidays may be hard, take responsibility for your happiness. Don't wait to see what happens. Make something happen.
If you are in a new community, find out how your new neighbors celebrate and join in the festivities. Go to local football games, concerts and parades. Volunteer your time to local charities, a children's hospital or retirement community.
The holidays can be especially tough when you're coping with the loss of a loved one. Make that person's memory a part of the festivities. Create a ritual of remembrance by putting out your favorite photographs and lighting a candle. Then take turns telling your best stories about the loved one.
A little nostalgia around the holidays is natural. Just don't get so caught up in the past that you forget how good the present can be.
Dan Johnston, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and director of psychological services at the Medical Center of Central Georgia. He also serves on the faculty of the Mercer University School of Medicine. Johnston is the creator of the Awakenings Web site, offering lessons for living.