(By Dana Gee, The Province)
With the holiday season gearing up to full speed, stress levels are also rising. To help us enjoy the good aspects and better manage the bad, we asked psychologist Dr. Joti Samra, an adjunct SFU professor, to offer her insight into how to deal with the most common causes of holiday angst.
“We know we are in this society of consumerism. There’s this kind of feeling of we have to keep up with the Joneses,” says Dr. Joti Samra, who has a private practice in Yaletown.
“I hear a lot from parents that the kids want all these fancy gadgets and it gets very overwhelming as people feel they have to indulge and they need to buy things to show their love for other people. I think people need to step back and re-evaluate for them and their family in particular what the holidays mean to them.”
Samra says a step in the right direction is to be mindful of why you are spending so much.
“Often it comes from our background, our family of origin. For example, if you came from a family that didn’t have a lot you may feel it’s a way to show your love now that you are in a position to buy things,” says Samra, who has appeared as a health expert on Millionaire Neighbourhood, The Bachelor Canada, Confessions: Animal Hoarding and The Project.
“You may think of a feeling you had if you came from a family where there wasn’t enough and you don’t want your children to feel that same emotion.”
Samra says a big key to helping alleviate this kind of stress is to change some traditions and to scale back. Don’t buy gifts for everyone, make gifts and even exchange skills rather than things.
And forget that old rule that says you shouldn’t talk about money.
“It’s stunning how often individuals say I feel embarrassed to bring that up with my family,” says Samra. “But I tell people: If you are feeling stressed, more people than not are also going to be feeling the same financial stresses.”
Oh, family. You love ’em but you don’t always like ’em, right? Samra agrees and says this time of year puts more tension on those already taut family ties.
“When families are thrown together old conflicts can come up,” says Samra. “I say to people: Be prepared, be wise and realize you have a choice.”
Also show some restraint and remember that this time of year is not the time to hash out old issues.
“Recognize that ultimately we are all in charge of our own behaviour,” says Samra. “We might not like the people around us but we can control how we conduct ourselves when we are with other people.”
Remember to give yourself the gift of time during the holidays.
“Don’t overschedule. I think we all feel pulled and feel we should say yes to every invitation that comes our way,” says Samra, who advises against accepting an invite right away.
“Ultimately, we are taking away from the spirit of it if we over-extend ourselves.”
Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you have to throw your healthy lifestyle out with the empty wrapping paper tubes.
Maintain your workouts, be mindful of your alcohol and don’t let the siren song of shortbread and Nanaimo bars devastate your regular diet.
Finally, lighten the holiday load even further by, well, lightening up.
“It’s important to not take things too seriously,” says Samra.
Yes, when you think about it, a little levity can be just the perfect gift to yourself.
We need to get it through our heads that the holly isn’t always greener at other people’s houses.
“All of us have this belief there is this perfect family out there. We start to see Christmas cards, movies. We see commercials with happy, happy family stuff and we tend to start feeling stressed when we think about our own situation,” says Samra.
“We need to realize a lot of our stress can be reduced by modifying our expectations. Be realistic. Keep in mind I have yet to meet a perfect family.
“If you are going in on your 20th Christmas and you’re thinking, ‘Well, maybe my mother-in-law falls in love with me this year and treats me differently,’ well, keep in mind that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour and don’t expect miracles to happen.”