by Rachel Rutledge

Feel like strangling Santa? You’re not alone. And there’s probably nothing wrong with you, either.

Tradition tells us that this time of year is meant for “Decking the Halls.” But did you ever feel like decking a friend or family member instead? All kidding aside, the mini-bouts of depression and anger that sometimes accompany this season are very real. The holiday blues can grip even the happiest, most well-adjusted of us with little or no warning. Understanding where these feelings come from, as well as your options for addressing them, can go a long way toward making it to January with your sanity intact. According to Dr. Rodger Goddard, who has served as Chief Psychologist at Trinitas Regional Medical Center for more than two decades, stress is almost always the trigger. And holiday stress can come from many sources. “At the end of the year, during the holidays, we reflect on our lives,” he explains. “When we reflect, we can get nervous about many things. For instance, many of us now face intense financial stress due to the state of the economy. This kind of reflection often leads us to dwell on our shortcomings and what we don’t have, rather than our accomplishments and the miracle of just being alive.” Dealing with relatives can just compound the situation. Tension between different family members, dwelling on past hurts or injustices, rivalries and jealousies can bring old wounds back to the surface. In this environment, little things—such as where to eat, what to eat and who sits where—can become incredibly stressful and suck the joy out of what should be pleasant reconnections and reunions. “On top of this,” Dr. Goddard adds, “we often eat and drink too much. The result is body discomfort, which contributes to distressing emotions.” The media can play a leading role in feelings of depression and anger. Movies, music, television shows and commercials all make the holidays out to be a magical time of happiness and perfection. To feel otherwise just feels wrong. “We live in reality, not a movie,” says Dr. Goddard. “Holidays cramp our schedule—overloading us with shopping, socializing, preparations and party-going. The holiday season has become hyper-commercialized, giving us the message that love is shown through material gift-giving. Under these conditions, we can feel that what we give and what we get are being constantly evaluated—which leads to even more stress.”

Mind-Heart-Body-Soul So what’s a seasonal sour-puss to do? Creating a “radical support” plan for the holidays should alleviate a good deal of the stress. According to Dr. Goddard, your anti-stress strategy should look something like this:

MIND — Make a PIPS list (Problem Identification/Problem Solving); for each thing that worries you about the holidays, write down a reasonable solution.

HEART — Spell out the actions that you will take to protect yourself and nurture yourself emotionally—specifically, commit to do the things that you love doing, with the people that you love the most.

BODY — Formulate a plan to limit your intake of the things that are great in moderation, but make you feel lousy in excess: sugar, starch, desserts, alcohol, cholesterol—you know, all the good stuff. Also, write down a daily workout regimen and stick to it. Exercise and movement actually processes negative emotions out of the body.

SOUL — Spell out your life mission and purpose. List the good things you have achieved during the past year. Look toward the year ahead and identify what you will do to experience a deeper spiritual feeling—anything from connecting with nature to taking a Tai Chi class. “We all try very hard to make life work,” says Dr. Goddard. “Always remember that you deserve the best.” EDGE  

Editor’s Note: Dr. Goddard also directs Trinitas’s Wellness Management Services, which provides training, consultation and program development to companies and schools to improve employee, teacher and corporate health, effectiveness and success.