Overstimulation, Stress and the Holidays

It’s December. There is stress. This is not an entry about how important it is to avoid stress and to manage our stress and to limit stress. This is not an entry about overstimulation and how important it is to avoid getting overstimulated and overwhelmed and consumed by it.


I love holiday overstimulation. I love holiday stress. The important thing here is to identify good overstimulation and stress versus the kind that absolutely makes the holidays a terror. Or specifically, would make me a terror during the holidays. The holidays themselves aren’t in themselves stressful; what is stressful is what we’ve chosen to make of them.


Holidays are amazing. December is my second favourite time of year (Halloween is always first). I love Christmas music (my favourite song is “Adeste Fidelis performed by Andrea Bocelli). I love holiday movies (I couldn’t name a favourite). As I am writing this entry, I’m also watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” for the second time this week (the Jim Carrey version). I’ve also watched lately “Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys” and “Scrooged”. I’m hoping to get “Fred Claus” or “A Christmas Prince” in tonight (possibly even “Elf”). Tomorrow will be “Disney Christmas Carol”. I like to balance the animated ones with the grown-up ones. I’ll probably get in “Nightmare Before Christmas” this week. I even love the fireplace channel.


All sorts of things are on my list of things to do. Decorate. Make cookies. Write cards. Watch every holiday movie ever made. Mail presents to my family (preferably in advance so I don’t have to pay for express delivery although I don’t have a good track record for that). Purchase thoughtful gifts and wrap them send them to friends. Attend parties (sometimes formal, sometimes casual). Host parties.


I understand the differences of opinion. I understand that not everyone has a holiday in December. I understand that sometimes people are alone at the holidays. I understand that people have had unfortunate experiences in the past and that affects them now. I understand that if any aspects of the holidays are something that triggers seizures, people wouldn’t be so thrilled about all the decorations and overstimulation. Not only do I understand that, I respect it. In return, I would hope that people would respect (whether they understand or not) that I love holidays.


Some people are particularly Grinch-y during the holidays and I totally get that. It’s commercial. Traffic around shopping centres is super bad (never mind the chaos in the malls). There is holiday music everywhere. Potlucks. There is an expectation of sending holidays cards to everyone we have ever met. Putting up lights outside (only to take them down in a few more weeks). 5,000 different ugly Christmas sweater parties. Some people find it so overwhelming that December ends up becoming a horrid time. Stress and overstimulation can trigger seizures in people, or enhance depression and anxiety. It can be a time that people dread, or want to avoid entirely.


Why do we care so much? When people tell me in great depth how much they hate the holidays, all I can think is about how much better December would be if they looked at it in a positive way. The commercial aspect can be avoided. Make gifts. Make cookies and hand deliver them. Volunteer. Write cards to people you value. In a hyper-connected world, how often do we actually hand write and mail a message? I could write “Happy Holidays Everyone” on Facebook, but that will be lost in the hundreds of other similar messages. I probably still will, but I will still hand-write cards. Maaaaaybe even mail them on time. Make the cards if you don’t want to purchase them. How much stress would be alleviated if we didn’t automatically approach December with a negative attitude?


In the words of the Grinch: “Oh, the Who-manity!” In all seriousness, this breaks my heart a little. The reality is, we are surrounded by the commercial, money-spending, light-display-competition, stressful and overstimulation holiday season.


Stress is here in December and stress is here ALL YEAR ROUND. The only reason that it seems heightened in December is the expectations we put on ourselves. The expectation we bring into December is what we want, whether positive or negative. We can hate the month of December, or we can love it. Or somewhere in between. However, we cannot stop December from coming. Every single year.


So we don’t have to avoid stress or overstimulation. We just need to make those things bearable or enjoyable. Make lists. Allocate time to getting all the chores done. Allocate time to lay on the couch to watch holiday movies (this is something that is actually on my list). Plan outfits in advance. Decide which events are important to you, which ones are less so, and actually say “no” to some commitments (you have the right to decline). Fit in short runs or walks just to get in some exercise and/or sleep in on weekends to catch up on rest. Drink eggnog and hot cocoa and cider. Embrace the holidays. EMBRACE THEM.

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