The Holiday season starts with God painting the countryside with pretty colors, then continues with a whirlwind of re-orienting one’s mindset from entitlement to gratefulness at Thanksgiving. Then comes the exciting buildup of decorating, shopping, baking, festivities and family gatherings, which lead to the climax of God’s love and connection with us through His gift to us of Jesus on Christmas morning. After Christmas, the holidays wind down with some self-reflection and New Year’s Resolutions as we leap into the New Year.
Experiencing holiday anticipation, excitement, fun, joy, and growth helps transform lives. Expectations of family, joy, and peace are at their highest. Unfortunately, for many, the holiday season is a time full of obstacles and traps which often move a person backward in their life’s journey. Stress and anxiety around the holidays fuel Depression and Addiction struggles often needing some intensive treatment options during the time of year when extra time to pursue them is rare.
Here are 7 common obstacles and some tips to navigate them better.
- Time – Too little time and too much to do. Life is hectic throughout the year, but the merry-go-round of life definitely spins faster during this 6-week holiday stretch. So many extra activities are piled on top of our already full plate. Since most of the extra stuff is fun, sentimental, engaging, exciting, or a show of love to others, we often have a hard time saying ‘no’ to these extra holiday ‘to-do’s.’ Feelings of agitation, stress, frustration, incompetence, failure, and fear of letting others down become a routine detour for most people’s holiday journeys.
Tip – Make time at the end or beginning of each day to 1) Assess your stress and functioning level, 2) Look at your schedule, both a couple days past and through the holidays, and 3) Look at your to-do-list. It is Ok to say no or to not go full tilt on a task so you have time to spend on some others. It is Ok to build in a rest for yourself as well.
- Loss – Whether it is material, financial, job, health, or especially a loved one through death or divorce, losses are always difficult adversities to navigate. But during the holidays, when we see others having fun and enjoying what they have, our losses (and hurt) seem accentuated. Or we seem hypocritical if we are enjoying the holiday when we are struggling on the inside.
Tip – Loss and transition isn’t easy, but Satan wants you to focus on what you don’t have. God has a plan and answers. Be thankful for what you enjoyed in the past and the blessings you still have in your life. Don’t get caught admiring what is in someone else’s yard (or your old yard), and ignore the awesomeness in your own yard. If you did lose someone to death, take some time to remember them during the holiday and talk to other family members about some fond holiday memories you have of your loved one.
- Family tension/conflict – The holidays, according to the TV shows, movies, commercials, songs, and cards are supposed to be filled with family love, togetherness, fun, sacrifice, and laughter. But we all come from and live in homes with varying degrees of dysfunction that have caused tension, conflict, and sometimes overt abuse, trauma, and wounds. Unfortunately, many families have not healed some of the wounds or developed healthy strategies to relate with each other. So whether it’s memories of holidays gone bad, or present tensions between family members, some are very apprehensive, angry, or even fearful when the weather turns and holiday spirit tries to emerge.
Tip – Know who and what your triggers are. If you can, seek a private meeting with people you struggle with and see if forgiveness and a healthy compromise or truce are possible to enjoy God’s love, blessings, grace, forgiveness, and peace regardless of the conflict. If this is not possible, planning ahead of time to develop safe boundaries around unsafe people is important.
- Unrealistic Expectations – The holidays are full of expectations. Whether it is the Christmas lights, the ideal food and meals, the incredible gifts to give and receive, the love and camaraderie we expect, the cheer and spirituality we desire from others, how far our credit cards and belt buckle will stretch, or that we can go to every activity, honor old traditions and start new ones, we expect to do it all. Not happening. When they don’t, disappointment, frustration, anger, blame, and feeling like a failure is what we reap.
Tip – When starting into the holidays, with your family, make a list with 3 columns: Absolutely (no compromise, have to do), Important (after the Absolutely items), Nice (only if time and energy permit). Then start writing down all the holiday activities and the level of effort necessary to accomplish them, and put them in the appropriate columns. As you see how the columns start to build, you can do some switching to zero-in on realistic expectations.
- Misplaced Dependencies – The holidays are a time of great reward. But sometimes we start to depend too much on these relational, material, and emotional rewards. In fact, we put too many eggs in that basket. Whether it is the perfect Christmas or Thanksgiving get together and meal, the ideal response from a loved one about the gift we gave, or how the cookies, decorations, shopping lines, and all the other logistics would go, it is OK to want the best outcome. But when wanting becomes needing or depending on, we are in dangerous territory because when they don’t happen, we feel let down, sad, anxious, empty, and lacking something.
Tip – If you are feeling strong negative emotions about something, look a bit deeper and see if you crossed the line from wanting it to needing or depending on it. If so, look to God and start to depend on Him and what He provides for your peace and joy.
- Faulty Decision-Making – Decision-making is the most important skill in life. We make 80,000 per day and decisions determine our life course. But during the holidays, many distractions and emotions start to interfere with a healthy and clear decision-making strategy. Whether it is as simple as the decision to go to sleep at a good time, decline the extra sweet, say ‘no’ to the alcohol or caffeine, or bigger decisions about spending or time management, or the biggest ones about conflict management, forgiveness, compromise, and love, these decisions and their ramifications are magnified during the holiday season.
Tip – Sit down and perform some self-assessment about your decisions, then confide in someone close to you and get their feedback about what they see.
- Leaving God Out – The irony of the holidays is that besides Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving are the most spiritual time of year. We get a chance to get some space from work and the hectic distracting world to focus on what’s important in life. But like in the Charlie Brown Christmas, so much other stuff – some good and some bad – now crowd out the true meaning and focus for these holidays, or holy-days. Life, or any coping mechanism, without God is a shortcut to disaster.
Tip – Isaiah 26:3 – You (God) gives him perfect peace whose mind is stayed (fixed, dependent) on Thee. This is the answer to Obstacles 1-6 above. Recognize the importance and power of God to heal and deliver you from temptation and despair. Take time each day to pray and read God’s instruction manual, the BIBLE (Best Instructions for Living Everyday)
During the holidays, these obstacles really hit those struggling with anxiety, addiction depression, suicidality, PTSD, and poor coping skills to turn to the wrong solutions to just ‘make it through’ until the holiday is over. They end up missing the most meaningful moments and also miss opportunities to celebrate the real love they have for family and friends. They bury themselves in immediate gratification to cover up their feelings and often times this comes in the form of alcohol or other substances, excessive eating, over-spending, numerous parties and other destructive and avoidance behavior that lasts far longer than the situation they are trying to escape. When distress is frequent, functioning compromised, or loss of control prevalent, help is needed. God often gives His greatest gifts to His people in the midst of great adversity or chaos, but we need to be prepared to see and receive it.
At Lighthouse Network, when we work with struggling patients and families, we pray with them and point them to the One that heals all pain. But in addition, we integrate Biblical truths and instructions into traditional treatments. The real celebration of Christmas is the birth of Christ who came into this world to forgive our sins and bring us everlasting life. It is only in Him that true peace, joy, love, fulfillment, and transformation will ever be found.
If you or a loved one is struggling, we want to help you. Contact Lighthouse Network at 844-Life-Change (844-543-3242) to find out how we can help you find peace and something to be thankful for during the season of peace and thanksgiving.