The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
November 1999, No. 2, Sect. 2
The Stress Doc makes a key existential distinction between holiday blues and
h oliday stress and provides clever strategies and verse for tackling "The
Four 'F's of Holiday Friction: Fantasies, Family, Food and Finances."
Holiday Stress: Fact or Friction
While many associate the holidays with Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol,
and its theme of gaining and sharing the holiday spirit, the opening lines from
A Tale of Two Cities may have even more relevance:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of time It was the season of
light, it was the season of darkness... It was the spring of hope, it was the
winter of despair.
Like Dickens, I too have tried to capture the complexity of the holidays; if
not through a great novel, then with my one classic holiday joke. I realized
with all this talk of pressure during the holidays, I needed to distinguish
between "Holiday Blues" and "Holiday Stress." Now holiday
blues is the feeling of loss or sadness that you have over the holidays when,
for whatever reason, you can't be with those people who have been or are special
and significant. And holiday stress...is when you have to be with some of those
Now here's some lighthearted, seasonal verse I wrote years ago for my radio
feature, "Stress Brake." It's called "Cruisin for a Bluesin":
The holidays may bring you down And you just sing the blues. To turn those
soured tones around Just play these "don'ts" and "dos."
When you're cruisin on the town Don't charge away the blues. If you card the
credit crown Your spouse may blow a fuse.
For fussy dad the streets you'll pound To find the perfect muse. He might as
well be tied...and bound He'll never change his views.
If you're alone, don't be house bound Or cuddle up to booze. Go ahead. Drown
a frown with tears And folks who can amuse.
Why not try that choral sound Spread some joyous news. For when the voices do
resound Then notes you can abuse.
This year don't play the tragic clown Be bold in how you choose. You too can
prance above the ground Put on those dancing shoes.
So now we've come full circle round More lines I must refuse. Just know when
love and friends abound The blues have many hues.
(c) Shrink Rap Productions 1997
Despite this good advice, we know that when you are with some of those people
(or if they are just in your head), real sparks can fly. Here are "The Four
'F's of Holiday Friction: Fantasies, Family, Food and Finances."
1. Fantasies. First, the idyllic image of the holidays portrayed by the media
seems so out of touch with reality, it's enough to make you overload on eggnog
(with or without the alcohol).
Another pressure is the internalized memories we carry around. I recall my
friend Linda, a single parent at the time, berating herself because she couldn't
keep up with the holidays - the cooking, the shopping, the house decorations,
etc. - the way her mother had. Of course, Linda's mom did not work outside the
home. I also recall Linda observing that, as a successful professional, she now
has the money but lacks the time for the season. Previously, when she wasn't
working, she had plenty of time and no money. The "Holiday Catch-22."
And, finally, this season turns most of us into sentimental jelly fish, just
waiting to get entangled in the arms of that "true love." Hey, I'm not
saying that Mr. or Ms. Holiday Hopeful is as possible or as real as Santa Claus.
(My motto: "I no longer count on nor discount any possibility.") Just
don't let childhood and childlike longings transform your internal memories and
voices into a frantic, salivating, love-crazed inner child.
The key to managing this friction: gently embrace, don't cling, to magical
memories. Discover a blend of magical realism that helps you balance love, work
and play in the present.
2. Family. There are so many permutations in families these days, it's got to
get a bit confusing. For separated families, a poignant question: which parent
(or grandparents) will we be with for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for New
Years? I vividly remember an eight year old boys lament: "Why can't we just
be one family again?"
Another common family issue is when a holiday gathering turns into a
competitive arena for sibling rivalry, along with a desire for long-standing
recognition and approval. And if you find in these family therapy sessions, I
mean holiday reunions, that you can't resist trying to change the attitude and
behavior of the parent (sibling or child) that "makes you crazy,"
patterns which have resisted influence attempts for decades...maybe there's only
one solution. Have you thought about getting far out of town for the holidays?
3. Food. The holidays turn most of us into bingeaholics. Running helter
skelter, not stopping for lunch, overdosing on the cookies and chocolate that a
colleague has brought to work. And discipline at a party is a contradiction in
terms. (Just ask the Democrats.) This caloric chaos is not surprising
considering the biggest role model of the holidays looks like he hasn't met a
single gram of fat in two hundred years that he doesn't love. Hey, Santa Claus
hasn't been doing his Jane Fonda workouts either. But wait...Appoint a
designated nagger, who will gently remind you when you are overdoing it. Don't
chat hovering around the buffet table. Take reasonable portions and move away.
Now replace food with some food for thought.
And face it, no matter what you do, or don't do, you are likely to add some
pounds on the holidays. So go to the malls and walk briskly for thirty minutes
before you start the shopping splurge. You'll spend less and, probably, will eat
less as well.
4. Finances. The holidays heighten our monetary consciousness -- from the end
of the year financial and psychological accounting (did we meet our
financial/family security and career goals?) to the never-ending list of holiday
gifts. And as the great Russian novelist, Doestoyevsky, noted:
"Consciousness is depression!"
For the first issue, seek a budget counselor, a CPA, a career counselor or
even a mental health specialist. For the last, "just say no" to your
child's "toy lust." Give your child choices; explain why there are
limits. Try this holiday mantra: "Presence precedes presents." This
season, invest time, not just money.
For big families, be creative. Divide up the gift list with other relatives.
You shouldn't have to buy something for everyone. Making a gift definitely adds
a personal touch. And, finally, don't overlook a very important person. Get a
special gift for yourself.
So the holidays may be a stressful time; a time of feelings of loss and
sadness. But with a little higher power humor it also, can be a source of
creative expression and sharing. Here's my gift to you:
Waves of sadness Raging river of fear Whirlpooling madness Till I disappear
Into the depths of primal pain Then again...no pain, no gain.
Depression, depression Is it chemistry or confession? Depression, depression
Dark side of perfection!
Climbing icy spires Dancing at the ledge The phoenix only rises On the jagged
edge In a world of highs and lows Hey, the cosmos ebbs and flows.
Depression, depression It's electrifried obsession High flying depression
So I'm pumping iron And Prozac, too What else can A real man do In a life of
muted dreams How about a primal SCREAM?
Depression, depression Even inner child rejection Depression, depression
Hallelujah for creative expression!
(c) Mark Gorkin 1994 Shrink Rap Productions
Just remember, for the holidays and beyond...Practice Safe Stress!
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, known as "The Stress Doc," is the
Internet's and America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" (TM). An
experienced psychotherapist, The Doc is a nationally recognized speaker, and
training and OD consultant specializing in Stress, Anger Management,
Reorganizational Change, Team Building and HUMOR! His writings are syndicated by
iSyndicate.com and appear in a wide variety of online and offline publications,
including AOL's Online Psych and Business Know How, Mental Health Net, Financial
Services Journal Online, Paradigm Magazine and Counseling Today. Check out his
USA Today Online "Hotsite" Website -- www.stressdoc.com . For info on
his workshops or for his free newsletter, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call
202-232-8662. Spring 2000, look for The Art of Practicing Safe Stress: The
Stress Doc's Survival Guide, published by AdviceZone.com .
(c) Mark Gorkin 1999 Shrink Rap Productions