Stressed about the holidays? -“Heart-to-Heart: Loving Family” Series

As the end of the year approaches, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, and Lunar New Year come one after another. Those in school look forward to the coming of holidays and school breaks. However, holidays inevitably create busyness. Some people are busy organizing parties, some are planning trips, and some are preparing different gifts. For some others, however, they feel endless stress behind the happy scenes, and in severe cases, depression may even be triggered. Dr. Agnes once discussed the issue of holiday stress with the congregation during a Sunday sermon. She pointed to a 2015 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in which 64 percent of people reported experiencing holiday stress. The report also indicated that anxiety and stress around the holidays may be caused by holiday-related memories and unrealistic expectations.

1. Causes of holiday stress/depression:

🎄Dealing with other people’s expectations: For example, some families require everyone in their circle of relatives and friends to receive a gift at Christmas so that these gifts can be put under the Christmas tree. If you think about the time and effort spent to select a dozen or even dozens of gifts, how can it not lead to stress?

🎄Perfectionism: A perfectionist may want to do everything himself or herself; he or she may always want to cook delicious food for dinner and may even expect guests to enjoy themselves, thereby praising him or her. Such stress is self-evident.

🎄Conflicts with family or friends caused by grievances or different standpoints: There will inevitably be opportunities for relatives and friends to get together during holidays, but these get-togethers are not always pleasant. Occasionally, you will meet relatives with whom you have a feud, or friends who have different stances and tough attitudes. Such conflicts may cause one to feel depressed.

🎄Loneliness / Missing loved ones who have passed away: Lonely people are prone to emotional distress during the holidays, which makes them even more lonely.

🎄Time and financial pressure: Some people are already very tight on time and money in daily life, and adding activities during the holidays will undoubtedly make it even more stressful.

2. Ways to cope with stress:

🎄Adjusting expectations and habits will help you feel more relaxed. I once had the following experience: When traveling abroad, I always like to travel freely. Not only can the itinerary be flexible, but it also saves money. I went to Japan with my family this past Thanksgiving. It was the peak season for viewing maple leaves, so the traffic was definitely more crowded than usual. Every time I go to Japan, I feel a lot of pressure during the preparation process due to language barriers. This time, because some members of my family cannot walk very well, I finally made some arrangements for local chartered cars and day tours, which relieved me of a lot of burdens. 

🎄Prepare for a rainy day: Make arrangements in advance to help manage stress.

🎄Understand your own abilities, stick to your own financial and time budget, don’t make things difficult or force yourself, and learn to say no and ask for help when appropriate.

🎄Pay attention to your own needs and feelings: After all, this season is supposed to be a time of joy and enjoyment. Don’t let the world’s standards and other people’s expectations overshadow our inner needs and happiness. Christians should focus even more on remembering the peace and hope that the Lord Jesus came to bring us.

🎄Don’t give up on healthy habits: The holidays are full of eating, drinking and having fun, but don’t forget to eat in moderation and exercise regularly.

🎄Differences in opinions can easily cause conflicts and tensions in relationships. When communicating and chatting with family and friends, try to maintain a positive attitude; learn how to not sell yourself too hard when dealing with different standpoints or sensitive issues.

In her sharing, Dr. Agnes mentioned a biblical character, Jonah, and how God helped him understand and deal with his own thinking and emotional reactions. Jonah had a kind of black-and-white thinking in his mind. He believed that the people in Nineveh were extremely sinful and must be punished. Therefore, when the Ninevites repented and were not punished, Jonah was extremely dissatisfied and fell into a state of depression to a point that he’d rather die. God used a castor tree to first take care of Jonah’s physical needs and make him feel comfortable and relaxed. Afterwards, the castor tree was taken away to let Jonah experience God’s cherishment of life and mercy to sinners. Often, behind holiday stress and even the feelings of resentment and grievances, there may actually be black-and-white thinking, and many areas are worthy of our reflection and adjustment.

Facing the stress of the holidays, I am reminded of Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart…” I hope that during this season, we can all listen to our hearts (and even bodies) and understand our feelings and limitations, and if necessary, adjust our personal mindsets and expectations so that we can easily manage the stress of the holidays and enjoy the beauty of the season.

Written by: Lily Ma


Grace vs. Black-and-White Thinking (Cantonese)

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