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Keeping Calm During the Chaotic Holiday Season
12.12.12 |
Heading deeper into the holiday season brings the usual joys of planning events, decorating the house, and buying and wrapping gifts. But with festivities come expectations, and that can create a lot of stress.

Dr. Louis Laguna, Dr. Paul Fullmer, and Dr. Bob Valgenti, three men with very different roles at Lebanon Valley College, shared some advice on how to deal with the pressures of the season.

Laguna, a professor of psychology, says that people begin to stress out when they take on too much responsibility. While we do get time off from our jobs and classes, we still stress over other things like last-minute shopping and planning to get to as many relatives’ houses as possible.

“When people say, ‘I hate the holidays,’ they don’t really hate the holidays,” Laguna said. “They hate the pressure. We’re barely passed Thanksgiving, and now they’re worrying about all the sales and things.”

Here are a few tips from Laguna on dealing with stress:

- I like to tell people it’s a misconception to believe that over the holidays you need to get down and depressed. Sometimes it happens because with a holiday, people tend to reflect about others they may have lost. You can always reflect. This doesn’t have to be a more depressing time for you.

- One thing we know about happiness is that people that take vacations and do nothing are not happy. To be happy, you need to stay busy and do the things that you enjoy. You need to keep active and focused.

- Try to keep things manageable by planning ahead of time. We all tend to wait till the last minute. People that break out of that cycle and do things early like online shopping do end up feeling better about the holidays.

- Family is certainly important. We put off seeing them at other times knowing that it will happen in December, but it may come back and bite us because of the sense that we have to do it. Obligation can be a heck of a thing. I think it’s OK to go see people at other times and during the holidays avoid dividing yourself so much.

- I’ve met with many clients over the years. One of the things I ask them is, ‘What are some of your best memories from growing up?’ Inevitably, the responses are things they did with their family: running out to a creek, eating breakfast together. I rarely hear about gifts that they got.

Fullmer, who serves as chaplain and director of service and volunteerism, says that the real life – especially during the holiday season – is a little chaotic by definition. Individuals need to figure out what is most important and consciously adjust their mood as things happen.

On the spiritual side of things, the Christmas season brings different kinds of reflection, but as with Laguna and others in the psychology field, Fullmer advises many people on how to cope with added pressure.

These two tips from Fullmer may help with prioritization and finding balance:

    - It may be helpful to recognize that “balance” by its very nature isn’t unwavering, but a constant adjustment—back and forth—between feeling overwhelmed and feeling peaceful. Despite popular expectations, even life during the holiday season isn’t perfect. When you feel overwhelmed, acknowledge the feeling and the situation. Adjust your perspective toward the long run and the ultimate: “Does it really matter?” Adjust your mood toward peace. Therein lies the balance.

    - It may be helpful to weigh your “stuff” in the balance. Most of us have more “stuff” than we need or could even conceivably use. The holiday season is an ideal time for giving unused items to others. Will additional belongings—“gifts”—ultimately help, or hinder, your enjoyment of life? For most of us, there are real benefits to ending the holidays with less rather than more. Perhaps you might make a goal of balancing your life by ending the holidays with less, rather than more, “stuff.”

    Valgenti, an associate professor of philosophy, takes a look at philosophers’ past and brings their advice to modern day interpretation for a living. But for this feature, he has adapted some classic writings to reflect on the ways in which we deal with the pressure of holidays.

    “In one sense, philosophers and holidays mix as well as eggnog and mulled wine,” Valgenti said. “The philosopher’s home is normally festooned with critique, anxiety, and general world-weariness, and the holidays only double-down on the reasons to wonder why the world even exists at all.

    “But philosophy in its purest form is also a practice that arises from simple wonderment at the world, and this attitude might be the key to enjoying the holidays and the amazing spectacle of human ritual.”

    Here are some of Valegenti’s holiday interpretations:

    - Aristotle never celebrated Christmas, but the philosopher of the “mid-point” would certainly counsel us to take all things in moderation, to avoid the extremes of gluttony, commercialism, and holiday rage in favor of an approach that enjoys the happiness of the season for its own sake rather than as a means to some other end.

    - Immanuel Kant might recommend a special holiday version of his “categorical imperative,” which insists that we “act only in accordance with that maxim we can also will to become a universal law of the holidays;” in other words, before you steal that last parking space at the mall, or lie about your gift not arriving yet from Amazon, or tell your family that all flights home have been cancelled, ask yourself if you would ever wish that action to become a universal law so that everyone could do the same to you. Good advice, but it is also clear that Kant spared no expense and re-gifted us “the golden rule” for Christmas.

    - Of course, stressors also come in the form of other people. Everyone has a Nietzsche in their family (overly critical, temperamental, arrogant, a finicky eater, dismissive of tradition, and a hater of Christianity and its commercialization), so when that person threatens to ruin the holiday for everyone, take a deep breath and try to find the things your holiday “Nietzsche” loves about rituals and tradition: their festiveness, dancing, and of course, the Dionysian love of holiday libations.

    - In short, rather than getting stressed, find the peculiar wonder in everyone and everything. Holidays are not necessary, so don’t treat them as an unavoidable burden. The virtue in holiday celebrations might be, as Socrates tells us, “a gift from the gods.” Rather than ask why, we might just say “thank you” and enjoy.

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