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A Special Report: How to Keep Stress and Tension From Ruining Your Holiday Season
By Morton C. Orman, M.D.

Dear Friend:

The holidays are upon us, and images of peace, love, and harmony are popping up everywhere. It's a time for great joy, good feelings, and family togetherness. Right?

Well what happens when Uncle Joe comes to visit, gets drunk, and kills off your holiday spirit? Or how about when your nerves become frazzled, or family members refuse to help out with last minute details?

You're not alone. Each year, millions of people suffer from increased stress and tension during the holidays. Much of this stress can be avoided, however.

In this Special Report, I'd like to share some of my thoughts and observations with you about how to lessen holiday stress. The principles I'll discuss are fairly generic, so you should be able to apply them to your own situations.


Top 10 Causes Of Holiday Stress

CAUSE #1: Social and Personal Expectations

Social expectations are a huge source of stress for many people. The holiday season is not a happy time for everyone. And not everyone feels in a partying mood all the time.

Yet just about everyone feels compelled to look and feel merry during the holidays. This is a form of social pressure that can be very stressful, especially if you happen to be in an emotional down cycle at the time.

In addition to social pressures, watch out for intrapsychic pressures (no, I don't mean two psychics talking with each other) deep within you. Often, people believe something is wrong with them if they don't feel merry or if they aren't in a celebratory mood. Or they become angry and frustrated when their own expectations of how the holidays are "supposed to be celebrated" don't get realized.

Watch out for these and other unrealistic expectations. They're a common cause of holiday stress for many, many people.

CAUSE #2: Too Many Responsibilities

Be careful during the holidays not to overcommit. Don't take on more than you can comfortably handle, and stop trying to be Superman or Superwoman by doing it all yourself.

But don't just assume that family members or other people will help you out with added responsibilities, unless you discuss this with them first and get their agreement. And remember: scheduling too many parties, too many extra activities, and too many family obligations can put a big strain not just on you, but on your family as well.

CAUSE #3: Trying To Change Or Control Other People

When people don't behave as we want during the holidays, as well as other times of the year, we often set out to change or control their behavior. When we fail to accomplish this goal (oh, let's say 98% of the time) we end up feeling angry and frustrated.

Thus, it's not just the behavior of others--like Uncle Joe--that drives us crazy during the holidays, but rather that people fail to think, feel, or behave exactly as we want.

The answer to this problem is simple (to say, not to do): DON'T TRY TO CONTROL OTHER PEOPLE! Within reason, grant others permission to celebrate the holidays any way they choose. Even grant them permission not to celebrate the holidays, if that's what they want.

In return for this "gift"--and it really is a gift--don't let anyone tell you how to celebrate the holidays either. If all members of your family were willing to let each other be any way they want or do anything they want during the holidays, much family tension would immediately disappear!

CAUSE #4: Unpleasant Memories

Many people have bad memories of past holiday seasons. Perhaps a friend got killed, a close family member died, a valued relationship came to an end, or some other crisis occurred.

Under these circumstances, it's not uncommon for negative memories to resurface during the holidays. This can be disconcerting, since it's generally assumed that everyone should feel "good" or "happy" at this time of year.

Even positive memories of past holiday seasons can be stressful. If you're not having a good time now, and you compare your present experiences to how you felt in previous years, you can end up feeling worse.

In addition, if a child, loved one, or other valued person has died or otherwise left you, happy memories of past holidays with them can put a damper on your joy.

CAUSE #5: Unpleasant Emotions And Other Body Reactions

Even when negative memories don't surface consciously, their emotional and physical counterparts can often be felt. This too can be stressful, since you might wonder why you're feeling "down" or "depressed" when there's no apparent reason.

Deep-seated memories and other negative associations can also cause you to unconsciously sabotage your holiday enjoyment. I personally witnessed a powerful example of this about 10 years ago, when a friend named Rob and I took a Christmas cruise to the caribbean.

Our first evening at sea, we had dinner with a lovely mother and daughter from Denver, who were celebrating the holidays away from home for the first time. They proceeded to tell us how every holiday season in Denver for the past eight years had been utterly disastrous. There were family fights, financial and business crises, accidents, injuries, and all sorts of other unpleasant occurrences.

This year, they decided to get as far away from home as possible for the holidays. And what better place than a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic ocean!

Well, after two days at sea, the mother and daughter were at each other's throats. The mother got so enraged, she refused to reboard the ship as it was leaving one of its ports. She later had to be helicoptered back aboard once she'd calmed down.

For the rest of the trip, she and her daughter behaved better towards each other, but not much. Thus, for these two people, the holidays were associated with such strong negative memories, that wherever they traveled, these memories haunted them unconsciously.

CAUSE #6: Blaming Yourself Or Others When Things Go Wrong

I don't know about you, but whenever something goes wrong around me, my first response is to automatically look around for someone or something to blame. It's not that I WANT to respond this way, but my body has been programmed to do this instantaneously, whether I "intellectually" want to or not.

Most of the time, my automatic assessments of blame turn out to be inaccurate! For example, I might automatically blame my wife or daughter for doing something "stupid" or "wrong" only to discover later on that they weren't really at fault. Or I might blame myself for the same types of things, when I wasn't totally to blame. (Even when I am, it's usually not a big deal.)

During the holidays, there are many opportunities for things to go "wrong." Thus, our automatic pattern of BLAME will get triggered more often. Watch out for this insidious cause of stress, not just during the holidays, but all year long as well.

CAUSE #7: Failing To Anticipate Likely Problems And Delays

Another common cause of stress during the holidays is FAILING TO ANTICIPATE LIKELY PROBLEMS AND DELAYS. During most of the year, this pattern comes into play when we schedule our daily activities too closely, when we don't anticipate certain problems and plan contingencies for them, or when we don't allow enough time to travel between destinations or important meetings.

During the holidays, this pattern centers around letting things go until the very last minute. Since thousands of other people do the same, an enormous wave of last-minute shoppers usually pours out to flood all the roads, malls, and shopping centers.

Many of these last-minute shoppers return home feeling angry, frustrated, and totally exhausted from fighting all the crowds. But if they had anticipated this likely problem--and avoided it by shopping earlier or during less busy hours--much of this holiday stress could have been eliminated.

Also, letting things go until the last minute puts added pressure on you (and other people) to get more done in any given day. This added stress could also be avoided by simply accomplishing just a few tasks every day, over a longer period of time.

CAUSE #8: Using Food, Drugs, Or Alcohol To Cope With Stress

During stressful times, many people turn to food, drugs, alcohol, or other chemical substances to cope with their stress. These coping strategies remain very popular for one important reason--THEY WORK!--at least in the short run. They aren't good coping strategies for the long run, however. And even as short term measures, they can cause serious problems such as car accidents, family blow-ups, injuries at work, etc.

The problem with these coping strategies during the holidays is that THEY ARE ALL SOCIALLY SANCTIONED! Wherever you go, food and alcoholic beverages will be plentiful, and you'll be encouraged to partake of them in large quantities.

What a great way to have fun and deal with your stress at the same time. Right?

Wrong. If you're suffering from increased stress levels during the holidays, don't turn to food, drink, or drugs for relief. Not only will these make you fat, obnoxious, and intoxicated, but more importantly, they will shield you from learning how to deal with the deeper causes of your problems. As a result, you'll end up in the same boat again, needing to rely upon these substances every future holiday season.

So force yourself to find other strategies. The knowledge you'll gain by doing this will be very useful to you for many years to come.

CAUSE #9: Expecting Things To Go Well

Expecting things to always go well, or always go as you planned, during the holidays (or any time of year) is an excellent way to end up feeling stressed.

A better approach is to adopt the attitude that no matter how things might go, YOU'LL MAKE THE BEST OF WHATEVER HAPPENS.

Remember my friend Rob from the cruise story?

Well, another Christmas, we went on a ski trip together to Killington, Vermont. The only problem was--THERE WAS NO SNOW! None. Nada. You could see patches of green grass all over the mountain slopes. Needless to say, there were many unhappy holiday campers.

Think Rob and I were among them? No way.

We both had brought our tennis rackets along, so we found a local indoor tennis barn and converted our ski trip into a tennis vacation instead. We had a great time, even though most other people went home feeling unhappy and depressed.

The point I'm trying to make here is that you can always find creative ways to deal with any unexpected situation or event. The more you work at developing this skill, the better you'll become at using it when you need it.

CAUSE #10: Expecting Others To Behave As You Prefer

Expecting others to behave as you prefer during the holidays is another sure fire way to end up feeling stressed. Please, please avoid this. And if you do catch yourself trying to fulfill this unrealistic goal, stop yourself immediately.

Always remind yourself that your own opinions, attitudes, and "rules" for celebrating the holidays might not be shared by other individuals.

Your personal history and past experiences regarding the holidays will most likely differ from those of your spouse, your friends, or even other relatives. To expect others around you to think, feel, and behave as you would, therefore, is pure folly.

Hey, how about this for a new Christmas carol--"Deck the halls with thoughts of folly...fa,la,la,la,la...." (Just something to help you remember this point!)

Well, there you have my top ten causes of stress during the holidays. Of course, these aren't the ONLY causes of stress at this time of year, but if you understand these ten causes, and learn to deal with them well, you'll probably be able to handle most of the others.

What If Something Really Tragic Happens?

Many people ask me, "but what if something truly tragic happens during the holidays? How is it possible not to be stressed then?" Well, this is really possible, but you'll have to do some work to achieve it.

Death, illness, disasters, and other major calamities don't really care that it's a holiday. They often occur at inopportune times, and if this happens to you, your friends, or a family member during the holiday season, this can be a great source of stress.

Once again, if you don't have the expectation that things will always go well, or that the holidays will always be joyous, you can deal with these negative realities more easily.

Some years, you may have to forgo celebrating the holidays to mourn the death of a loved one or to provide emotional or other support to a stricken friend or acquaintance. You may get some flack from other people, but that should be easy for you to deal with.

The point is, do what you think is right for you at the moment, and don't let others make you feel bad about it.

Several years ago, my wife Christina and I left home to spend New Year's weekend with a good friend of ours and his girlfriend, who had flown in from her home town a day or two earlier.

By the time Christina and I arrived, the girlfriend had broken off the relationship and returned home. Our friend was devastated, and he begged us to go off on our own, since he wouldn't be much fun to be around. But we wouldn't have any of that!

If our friend was hurting, we wanted to be by his side to provide comfort and support. So the three of us packed up, drove to the vacation spot we had previously picked out, and we all had a truly memorable time.

People Who Are Single, Divorced, Widowed, Or Separated

If you are single, divorced, widowed, or recently separated, it's not uncommon to feel unhappy or depressed during the holiday season. With all the images of couples and families enjoying themselves together, it's easy to feel that you're missing out on all the fun (or worse, that something's wrong with you because you're alone).

Unrealistic expectations, social pressures, painful memories, and other causes of holiday stress can be much more intense for people who are alone. Family members, children, and friends can often make matters worse by not responding appropriately to your situation, or by not visiting you at all during the holiday season.

Madison Avenue has never been kind to single individuals during the holidays. If you understand this, however, and know that you're going to be bombarded with lots of painful advertising messages, you can prepare yourself emotionally to keep these from affecting you.

You can also remind yourself, every day, that there's nothing wrong with being single during the holidays. You have just as much right to celebrate and have a good time (whether you choose to be alone or with others) as anyone else.

Just because the whole world buys into the "happy family" mystique, you don't have to let this get you down.

How To Deal With Financial Stress During The Holidays

The last issue I'd like to discuss is the problem of financial stress during the holidays.

Financial difficulties are a great source of stress for many couples, families, and individuals throughout the year. During the holiday season, many of these financial problems come to the forefront.

Many couples, for example, struggle with money decisions all year long. During the holidays, issues such as: How much do we spend? Do we go into debt? And who makes the final decisions? can be particularly stressful.

Some years financial problems may only surface under extreme conditions, such as the loss of one's job, a big loss in business, or some other failed financial venture.

But when they occur on a regular basis, just about every holiday season, the best thing to do is to consider them symptoms of a poor or dysfunctional financial management system.

Make it a point to handle this issue with your spouse once and for all! Don't be afraid to seek professional advice if you can't arrive at a mutually satisfying arrangement.

Once you have a healthy financial system in place, you and your spouse should be able to handle any increased financial pressures during the holidays with no trouble at all.


Well, I hope you liked this Special Report.

Wishing you good health, happiness, and much success,


Mort Orman, M.D.


Morton C. Orman, M.D. is a board certified internist who specializes in teaching people how to eliminate stress, quickly and easily, without having to manage it. He is the author of numerous articles, books, tapes, and special reports about stress. His best selling book "The 14 Day Stress Cure" (Breakthru Publishing, Houston, TX) received an outstanding book-of-the-year award in 1992 from the National Association Of Independent Publishers. Dr. Orman's book can be ordered for $ 24.95, 24 hrs a day from Amazon.com.

Holiday Stress Report Published 1994 By:
TRO Productions, LLC
908 Cold Bottom Road
Sparks, MD 21152

1994-2010 By M.C. Orman, M.D., FLP. All rights reserved.


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