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Overcoming the Stressors and Anxiety of the Holiday Season

Taking a closer look at our inner selves during this holiday season

Kristen Fuller
Source: Kristen Fuller

The holiday season is officially upon us, in case you have not noticed. It is almost nearly impossible to walk into a retail store without becoming inundated with Christmas trees, Santa Claus and his reindeer, holiday decorations, and…Mariah Carey singing “Oh Holy Night”! ‘Tis the season!

After the conclusion of Halloween, the holiday season is in full force, whether you are ready or not! Personally, I LOVE the holidays, but unlike most people, I prefer the intricate details and the simple things associated with this heart-warming season such as staying home and decorating the Christmas tree, making homemade spiked apple cider, ski trips, stuffing, mashed potatoes and more stuffing, listening to Christmas music, attending holiday art festivals, creating new recipes, outdoor activities in the SNOW, Christmas lights and did I mention skiing?

I am a true introvert, and therefore holiday parties, whether it is a work potluck, an ugly Christmas sweater gathering, charity fundraisers, the infamous Turkey Trot run, elephant gift exchanges, or a casual social Christmas party; tend to really freak me out around this time of year because of the social obligations. Add the pressures of buying the perfect gift for your loved one and people you barley know and my introverted self is officially pushed WAY out of my comfort zone. Can I just hide under the covers until the New Year has passed? Also, we cannot forget, fighting for a parking spot, and the enormously long lines at the grocery stores and malls. But lets be honest, us introverts avoid malls, Black Friday and the post office around this time of year; or at least try to! Sometimes I have to laugh and think, “Do people actually take time to ENJOY the holidays”?

Kristen Fuller
Source: Kristen Fuller

Taking a deeper look at overcoming social anxiety during the holidays

I am not alone, according to studies approximately 40% of adults are riddled with social anxiety around the holidays and many turn to food and alcohol as coping mechanisms, which can result in a downward spiral. Although I feel I am constantly cornered at holiday parties and asked about my career, love life and why haven't I bough a house yet, I try to put my social anxiety and my fear of "fitting in" aside and focus on the bigger picture while staying empathetic to the details. Is it possible for individuals to overcome their social phobias, holiday anxiety, and obsessions with consumerism and just take a minute to smell an apple cinnamon candle, stand under the mistletoe or think about the rest of the population that is completely isolated from this inviting holiday season?

Taking a look at the "not so merry side of holiday season"

According to studies , the average American spent over $900 on Christmas gifts in 2016. Another study showed that the average shopper spent just over $300 during Thanksgiving weekend and 40 percent of all holiday shopping occurs from Thanksgiving to Christmas. These numbers are in drastic comparison to the amount of money spent on Thanksgiving dinner. The American Farm Bureau Federation says that from 2005 to 2015, the average price of a family’s Thanksgiving feast has risen from $36.78 to $50.11, which is a 36% increase. Approximately 46 millions turkeys are consumed on Thanksgiving and according to a study in the United Kingdom , each adult will spend and average of $75 on alcohol over the holiday season. These number may or may not come as surprise to many, as the majority of individuals are well aware of the heightened consumerism associated with the holiday season, but what about the social implications associated with the holidays? What about those who are like me, who dread the crowds and large holiday gatherings? Or what about those who feel an emotional burden around this time of year because they are without a loved one or are reminded about a family member who passed away or who are alone in a hospital or nursing home? Or those who are riddled with mental illness or substance abuse who may feel abandoned or undeserving?

My wish for you over this holiday season

It is human nature to become completely wrapped up in the consumerism, the stress of a holiday party and the awkwardness of deciding who and who not to purchase a gift for; but in reality there are so many individuals who do not even have these “stresses” and instead find themselves alone, too depressed or extremely physically ill to even acknowledge the holiday season, let alone take part of a celebration. Each year, I find it incredibly important to get over my fear of social gatherings and focus more on being grateful for what I have and those who I am able to surround myself with throughout this time of year. I think about the children who yearn for their parents who are in prison, mothers and fathers who lost their dear children and the emotions they must feel during this time of year, a young solder who is fighting for his life and his country overseas, individuals who are stricken by homelessness, mental illness and addiction. I think about people like my grandfather, who are celebrating their first holiday season alone without their spouse and my friends who are estranged from their family members. Although I personally find myself struggling around this time of year because of the inundating stress from social gatherings, the overbearing consumerism and close family members who I have sadly become estranged from; I try my very best to take a step back and try to overcome these battles because there are so many others who are deeply saddened by the holiday season and who are swimming in a sense of loss, loneliness, depression and alcohol. My wish for this holiday season is to inspire individuals to pay attention to the details, practice gratitude, find warmth in friends and family and always remember nothing in life is permanent. May we all learn to overcome our battles and appreciate what this upcoming holiday season will bring.

Blessed is the season, which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.
-- Hamilton Wright Mabie

Kristen Fuller M.D. is a clinical mental health writer for Center For Discovery