Holiday Stress

There’s probably no need to tell you that the holiday season is super stressful. Between gift shopping, family get-togethers, and travel planning, it’s enough to make even the most composed of us sweat a bit. I love the holidays – getting to see most of my family who lives half a country away from me makes it all worth it, but to say I make it through the season with a smile on my face the whole time would be a lie. I take round-trip flight each year, and airports are quite literally my least favorite public places. Ever. I get that airport staff are just trying to do their jobs, and passengers are sometimes rushing to catch their flights, but the amount of stress buildup in airports is almost unreal. It’s isn’t even the actual flying in a plane part that I dislike, just the process of getting on and off it. Very rarely does my anxiety climb to such high levels than when I’m in an airport. Also, I live in the Chicago area, so I always fly out of O’Hare, one of the largest (ohhh no), busiest (ughhhh), most crowded airports in the U.S. Being right in the horizontal middle of the country makes Chicago a HUGE port for travellers.

Also, the last Christmas, my flight back to Chicago was cancelled, so I was stuck in the Newark, New Jersey airport for nearly 24 hours. Newark freakin’ New Jersey. For those who don’t know, Newark…isn’t the nicest place. So, instead of venturing out of the airport to find a motel for the night, I made myself nice and “comfy” on a booth in the food court. Being a naturally anxious person, you can probably imagine how much sleep I got being in an unknown, not entirely secure food court booth for the night.

But I digress. In the end it’s always worth it to see my family. But the mere act of getting on a plane is enough to make me dread it for weeks to come. Society looks at the holiday season as a time to be happy – a time to spend with family and friends and give, give, and give. But rarely is it that simple, it seems. There are so many stress factors involved, depression and anxiety have been scientifically proven to spike around this time of year. It’s almost like society views the holidays/end of the year as a finish line – once we pass this gift-giving season, we have quite a few months before another major holiday. So when that finish line is in sight, we sprint for it, giving it our all to finish strong, even if it takes its toll on us physically and emotionally. Just cross that finish line, and then we can rest…

To me, that seems to be a very unhealthy mentality. I respect people who want to really make others’ holiday seasons special by buying the thoughtful gifts, cooking the best holiday meals, throwing the best end of year party. But we’re only humans, even those of us who don’t suffer from seasonal depression or anxiety. We aren’t cars – you can’t just keep pumping us full of gas and hope we chug on. Our bodies need rest, in more ways than one. Physically, of course, but the constant barrage of holiday gift-giving and family reunions in such a short amount of time can drain us mentally. I’m not saying that spending time with your family is going to drain you, but whether we admit it or not, there are many social “obligations” forced on us during the season, whether it be gift-giving, holiday cards, lengthy, intrusive conversations with family members who want to know everything that’s going on in your life. I know most of them mean well, but still. It takes its toll.

I suppose the point of this post to to remind you to relax, even in this time of the year. You aren’t doing anybody any good if you burn yourself out before you reach the actual holiday. I’m not saying don’t do anything, but just because it seems like everyone else around you is rushing to get things done and bought like there’s no tomorrow doesn’t mean you have to. This may sound a bit selfish, but you really do need to take care of yourself first. People can sense when you’re burned out, and it can reflect on them. I guarantee that the people who truly care about you care far more about making sure you’re happy and functional than the cost of the gift you get them. 

If you’re stressing out this holiday season, breathe. Relax. Do something for you. Make yourself a nice meal, do some drawing, talk with some friends. Don’t be afraid to recharge; you aren’t a phone battery being pushed to the last percentage of its life just to get a few things done. You are far more complex. And the people who love you know that. Stay strong.

– Ryan