But You are Supposed to be Excited

For many therapists, holidays are a time of excitement and pleasant memories. Recalling family warmth, delicious meals, and enjoyable conversations foster the yearning to experience this yet again.

However, not all therapists look forward to the holidays. A whole host of pressures, conflicts, and stresses, and the fear of overwhelm can easily replace that joy and excitement with a sense of dread.

If you’re one of the latter, you are probably feeling trapped because there is nothing you can do to avoid this encroaching problem, and guilty for not being excited like everyone else about what is supposed to be a joyous time.

What can you do about it? The quick answer is, a lot! But there is one critical requirement that you must accept before we begin. And that is your openness to change the way you approach this stressful season. If you are open to change, then there is great hope that you can move beyond much of the pressure and anxiety that you are feeling.

Holiday Stressors

For most people, it’s not that single stressor that makes the holidays so challenging, but it’s being challenged by many of them at once. Some of those common stressors include:

1. Memories

Holiday memories can cause stress in various ways. For some, there are memories of holidays past that did not go well. For others, it is the longing for members of the family who have moved away or died. And then some idealize a mythical past when the holidays were a flawless experience of family unity. Any of these memories can be the cause of significant stress as the holiday season approaches.

2. Family

Similarly, the stress caused by family has many faces as well. For some, it is the anxiety caused by the anticipation of interacting with a dysfunctional family. For others, it is the pressure to spend time with multiple families or family members. And then some feel the pressure to create a perfect or magical holiday experience for their children or other family members. The COVID-19 Pandemic aside, some families are hesitating to gather at all.

3. Time dilemmas

To “free up time” to spend with their families, therapists often need to increase their workloads in the weeks leading up to the holidays. Also, the first few weeks of the new year will invariably be intense as clients will want to resume and catch up as soon as possible. Add to this the extra time therapists budget to shop for holiday cards, decorations, and gifts.

And some therapists, such as those in the mental health field, will have difficulty in “truly” being off from work. Some therapy positions, especially those in private practice, require therapists to be on call in the event of a crisis, although they are technically on vacation. Being on call makes it more stressful and difficult to relax and recharge.

4. Finances

While finances need not wait until the holiday season to be stressful, there are additional pressures that are brought to bear during this time. Between the expectations regarding buying gifts and creating delicious, sometimes lavish holiday feasts, the pocketbook is sure to be taxed beyond the norm. And with the tanking economy impacting so many therapists, the pressure will be that much greater.

Coping Strategies

Therapists are no different than everyone else; they must continue to plug away despite their increased stresses. Here are some effective strategies to help you through this time:

1. Reach out to Colleagues

During stressful times, therapists will do well to bounce their ideas, questions, and problems off someone else, such as a colleague. Consulting with another therapist can be especially helpful when dilemmas arise, as oftentimes there is no one who understands a therapist’s needs quite like another therapist.

2. Establish Clear Boundaries

Therapists, like anyone, shouldn’t feel obligated to spend the holidays according to someone else’s prescription. For example, if it doesn’t work to visit both families during the holidays or even spend more time with one, don’t be “guilt-tripped” into doing so. Attempting to satisfy another’s expectations can cause significant holiday-related stress.

3. Adopt Reasonable Expectations

Don’t succumb to the temptation to make your holidays look like a beautiful painting or a Pinterest board. Your holidays don’t need to be perfect. No one’s holidays are perfect. Instead, integrate your holiday activities into the life you live outside of the holidays. Rather than trying to do it all, prioritize and do those things that matter most.

4. Be Financially Responsible

Remember these four words. “You have a budget.” Be very careful not to overspend. People are often more likely to suffer holiday-related depression when they don’t control their spending. While giving gifts can be uplifting, drowning in bills at the beginning of the year can bring you down very quickly. Make a realistic budget, then stick to it. Look for other languages of love aside from giving gifts.