Having a happy holiday with Dr. Josh: Don’t let stress make this a blue Christmas

Setting expectations and recognizing limits are keys to keeping the holidays from getting you down.

josh klapow 2017 streamThe Christmas carol says “Be good for goodness’ sake,” but for many, being good at the holidays is not enough. The holiday period itself has to be better than good, maybe even perfect, a concept reinforced by decades of idyllic Christmas portrayals in advertising. Currier and Ives got their start in 1857.

Yet the stress and anticipation of the holiday season can take their toll, says University of Alabama at Birmingham clinical psychologist Josh Klapow, Ph.D.

“The key is your expectations, which can set the stage for a good or a stressful holiday season,” Klapow said. “It’s all about recognizing limits.”

Klapow suggests asking yourself a few questions. Are you willing to run yourself into the ground in the name of the holiday season? If you do, what will be the outcome? He says it is not uncommon for people to become so stressed over the holidays that they become physically ill.“

Take a realistic look at your situation and make some decisions on what you want to do, what you can do, and what you should not do. Ask yourself what is possible, and what is healthy. Set limits and abide by them. It’s OK if that last batch of cookies doesn’t get made, or if you miss a social gathering.”

The bottom line is to set reasonable expectations, and do not overreact if something does not turn out as you planned. Also keep in mind that sometimes a little holiday blues is understandable.

“Sometimes memories can be a little overwhelming, leading to feelings of sadness or melancholy,” Klapow said. “This is not the same as depression or seasonal affective disorder, so feel free to give yourself permission to feel down on occasion. When that happens, do the things you like to do — those things that make you glad — and don’t worry about what others might want you to do. Don’t isolate yourself — give yourself a chance to renew your holiday spirit.”