It’s that time of year again. Have you strapped your seatbelt tightly around your waist and taken a deep breath before the tension begins to mount? The holiday décor is everywhere: red-bowed wreaths, multi-colored lights, tinseled trees, seasonal music, Christmas plays, fully stocked stores, and people…people…people. Happier times await us. Loved ones will reunite, the infectious excitement of children will permeate the air, generosity will arise, and the celebrations will begin. The crescendo toward Christmas glee—or glum—is well underway.
While joy abounds at Christmastime, this can also be one of the most stressful times of the year. The harried pace, heightened expectations, or difficult circumstances can bring Christmas stress. The glitz blitz is about to expose the Yuletide misfit inside anyone of us. Inevitably, the pressure creeps in to steal away the joy.
Recently, I spoke with a man who was dreading the holidays. Seems a family rift had iced over some important relationships. Sound familiar? When the holidays hearken, so do the memories of happier times and the longing for more of them. But bitter winds can sweep across our lives, leaving a cold barrenness that resists the warm spirit of Christmas.
When you think of Christmas, do fond memories of childhood bubble up? Or troubling ones? While some people grew up in a nurturing environment, others may still be suffering from an empty childhood–or living through one. The persistent pain is emotionally crippling. The holidays accentuate this pain . . . and the vulnerability that accompanies it. If you’re in this group, you’re not alone. Yet, hope remains.
Others have their own struggles: an impending divorce, a bleak medical prognosis, a job layoff, or the loss of a loved one. As they travel closer to Christmas, their problems appear magnified in the windshield. They’d rather steer to the side to avoid the pain. Yet, all traffic passes through December 25.
What’s your story? Does the thought of another Christmas have you strategizing to minimize its effects? We all experience stress, even during less hectic times. This season’s stress has a distinct endpoint, just around the corner. By January 2, Christmas will be over and forgotten by most. Meanwhile, here are some thoughts on how to reduce the stress.
1. Keep short accounts with people. Christmas draws people together. You’ll appreciate the people you encounter this season if you keep short accounts with them. Is there someone you need to reconcile with today to make your tomorrow more enjoyable? Without apologizing and forgiving, your reunions may be challenging. Don’t let the potential blessing of another Christmas pass you by.
2. Reexamine your expectations. If your happiness depends upon other people, even the best of them will disappoint you. Everyone has shortcomings. So, don’t expect others to bring you Christmas joy—it’s more than they can deliver. Rather, reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. Remember its origin.
3. You can’t control other people. You’re bound to see people this Christmastime who you don’t normally choose to spend time with. Some of them may be “difficult people.” Realize that others have the right to be who they are and you can’t change them. If you accept them as they are, they will be more inclined to do the same for you. And you just may enjoy them a bit more.
4. Giving with the right motives. We bring stress upon ourselves when we aim to give perfect gifts, or to orchestrate perfect celebrations. Yet, “people pleasing” will only get you so far. With genuine motives, giving is beautiful. It commemorates the early givers, the Magi, and God’s gift of a Savior. Examining your motives and realizing that there is no perfect gift or celebration should alleviate some of the pressure.
5. Avoid becoming part of the hubbub. Rather than focusing on activities, think about the meaning of Christmas. Be selective with activities. Scrutinize your motives in the process. And don’t overschedule, or your holiday bonanza will turn into holiday burnout.
6. Putting things in perspective. We’re all guilty from time to time of focusing on our own problems. Yet, regardless of how serious they are, others have more dire problems. When you look beyond your circumstances, you unlock a precious gift—you realize you can bless others. And when you bless someone else, you bless yourself. That may be the best gift you receive this Christmas.
Last Christmas Eve, in my role as a volunteer hope coach for TheHopeLine, I was chatting with a soldier who was struggling with posttraumatic stress disorder. Flashbacks to loved ones dying in combat were too much to bear, so she was drinking to mask the pain. She was just one more national hero who was alone with what felt like a miserable holiday awaiting her. The loneliness was excruciating, leading her to consider suicide. Although her spirits were brightened when I pointed her back to the “Reason for the season,” a long, hard road to healing and recovery remained.
My message to her? There is always hope. We need look no further than to the embodiment of all hope, Jesus Christ. That’s why CHRISTmas exists. And that’s why we celebrate it. Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted and to set the captives free. When you embrace that truth, your joy will overcome your stress at Christmastime…and throughout the year!