Posted by: drrozkaplan | December 14, 2009

Happy Holidays?

It’s Sunday evening and I just got home from yet another work-related holiday party.  I’m a pretty social person, but I was dreading the whole party thing all day;  I didn’t like the idea of curtailing my time relaxing at home in my sweatpants, putting on ‘festive attire’ and makeup, and going out in the rain to make small talk and unconsciously overeat.  The actual event wasn’t bad.  I enjoyed the company of many of the people there, and the food was pretty good.  But on the way home, I noticed that my face actually hurt from forcing a smile for three hours.  I guess I hadn’t realized how much effort I’d been making

Why are these holiday activities so stressful?  They’re supposed to be fun.  But so many people I talk to tell me that the holiday season stresses them much more than it makes them happy.  My patients struggle more with their self-care at this time of year.  They are too busy to relax, to exercise, to follow through with therapy or nutritionist appointments.

What is everyone so busy with?  Shopping for gifts, preparing for family visits, cooking, traveling, going to parties… So what’s stressful?  First of all, routine is broken.  Even if we all look forward to time off from work, breaking routine is a stress.  And I don’t know about you, but for me, there’s a phenomenon I call ‘re-entry crisis’- for every day I take off from work, there’s increased workload when I get back.  And if I leave town, there’s the issue of unopened mail, unanswered voicemail, and possibly unread email, unless I check email while I’m away.  If a family visit is in the picture, relationship stress is likely. Any time there are visitors in the home, the balance is thrown off.  And many of us know the conflicts we are likely to have with our relatives, but go back year after year hoping ‘things will be different this time’, then feel let down or angry when they’re not.  What a setup!

This year in my family, my son will be coming home from college for the holidays.  We’ve missed him tremendously and are looking forward to his visit, but I also have to stop myself from expecting too much.  I have to stop myself from having fantasies that he will spend cozy evenings at home with us and be a great friend to his little sister.  More likely, he will drop his dirty laundry, eat us out of house and home, and be out the door to spend as much time as possible with his high school friends.  He will fight with his sister over the car (which she is now used to having to herself), come in at all hours, and generally wreak havoc with the  newly established order of our household.  The fantasy is so much nicer than the reality- and every TV show and commercial and magazine evokes that perfect family image.  Who wants to deal with reality?  Still, it’s a lot healthier for me to have realistic expectations.  Otherwise I’d be sabotaging my own mental health.

Most of us sabotage our physical health during these holiday weeks and then try to make up for it after January 1st (often with a New Year’s Resolution).  While we might justify this self-neglect or self-abuse (‘It’s the holidays, I’ll stop drinking/overeating/start exercising/ start meditating/go back to physical therapy/ January), the guilt it causes is stressful.  In addition, poor nutrition causes physiologic stress.  Too much sugar leading to changes in insulin output can sap energy; overeating in general leads to gastroesophageal reflux, poor sleep, fatigue and other symptoms.  Lack of exercise also decreases energy, circulation, concentration, and quality of sleep.  I won’t even start on the effects of too much alcohol.  I’m guilty of messing up my nutrition during these weeks.  Besides all these damned parties, we celebrate Hanukah and I MUST make potato latkes.  There is enough candy at my office to make all of us diabetic, and I love chocolate.  I don’t have a lot of willpower.  But I’m  trying this year.  I’ve decided that every breakfast and every lunch has to be healthy.  I’m lettting myself have only one piece of candy each afternoon.  I’m trying to be a little more conscious while eating at parties.  I eat slowly.  And I’m not letting my exercise go this year.  There’s always a way to get exercise.  Walking outside, a gym, a DVD, a yoga class.  Always, if I’m willing.

The thing is this.  Being honest with yourself.  What is stressful about your holidays and why?  What parts of the stress do you have control over?  You have control over your expectations of your holidays.  You can set some reasonable goals for self-care so you don’t feel like you’ve completely lost control by NewYear”s Eve.  You can choose which of those parties you need to go to and which you want to go to and which you’re just not going to go to.  And then maybe you can have some fun at the ones you’re at and you can leave before your face muscles start to hurt.



  1. The truth is wonderful and indeed can hurt.
    Grateful to to friends and family where smiling comes naturally.
    Thanks for getting me to think about it.

  2. wonderful… now you will understand the lovely turmoil we parent-type-folks-of-the-older-generation went through in years gone by…. and we loved every minute of it; luv you and the stories..


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