Linda Lewis Griffith

It’s the most stressful time of the year

“It’s the most unstable time of the year.”

I love the holidays. But they wreak havoc with our emotional gyroscopes. We start free falling sometime around Thanksgiving and keep tumbling mid-air until after Jan. 2. That’s roughly six weeks out of every 52, or nearly one-ninth of our lives.

There are as many reasons for the mental instability as people waiting in line to mail holiday packages at the post office. First is the added workload. Decorations go up before the leftover yams and stuffing have cooled in the fridge. Gifts need to be purchased and wrapped. Christmas cards (for those die-hards who still send them) are signed and addressed. Cookies are baked for the kids’ holiday party at preschool.

The decision must be made weeks in advance about who goes where with whom for which portion of the celebration. The process requires more calculations and emails than a NASA space launch.

The possible number of family groupings grows exponentially in blended households where divorced parents and their new partners each expect grown kids to have the holidays with them. Christmas becomes one giant progressive dinner as families eat appetizers at one house, main course at another, then traipse off to still a third for dessert.

Feelings are bruised as easily as a piece of Harry and David fruit this time of year. Elderly parents complain that they’re not getting enough time with the grandkids. Daughters-in-law feel unwelcome in their husbands’ clan. Harried mothers go overboard making everyone happy but secretly resent being saddled with all the work.

Because of the heightened stress, arguments are more likely to erupt. Couples bicker about the size of the Christmas tree. We snap at family members for making unreasonable demands. Gatherings are often fraught with their own longstanding tensions.

The result of all the instability is that we feel confused and out of sorts. We’re short-tempered with our kids. We have way too much packed into our days. In fact, all the holiday merriment seems intended for someone other than us.

But rather than canceling Christmas or going into hibernation until the first of the year, place yourself atop the tree this holiday season. Instead of pleasing everyone else make time for your own needs. Not to worry. You’ll still get the most important chores done. Meanwhile you’ll maintain your emotional stability. And that’s the most important gift of all.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit http://www.lindalewisgriffith.com

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